Consumer Affairs Department
Consumer Protection has been institutionalized in St. Lucia from as far back as 1970 with the commissioning of the Price Control and Supply Department, under the auspices of the Ministry Trade and Industry. This department was mandated to control and monitor the prices and distribution of controlled goods as described within the Price Control Order. The Order was comprised primarily of basic food items, school text books, cement and propane gas among others. Additionally, the department was responsible for the procurement of bulk rice, flour and sugar, a function it continues to perform.
Owing to the liberalization of product markets, the increasing complexity of consumer complaints and the recognition that Price Control offered limited protection to consumers, there was need to create an institution with a much broader scope; a department that would offer consumers in St. Lucia greater protection in the marketplace. Therefore in September of 1997, the Price Control Department was transformed and renamed the Consumer Affairs Department (CAD). This transformation broadened the scope of work and led the way for more holistic protection for consumers. The department now has the responsibility for the protection of consumer rights thus ensuring that the health, safety and economic welfare of consumers are given due attention.
The department is continuously evolving and is at a critical stage in the Consumer Protection Movement. Consumer Protection guidelines were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 39/248 of April 9, 1985, which was later expanded in 1999. These guidelines provide a framework for member Governments to set their own priorities for the protection of consumers in accordance with their respective economic, social and environmental circumstances and the needs of their population.
In addition to these guidelines, Chapter Eight (8) of the revised CARICOM Treaty which seeks to establish the (CSME) provides the legal framework for member states to elaborate and develop appropriate measures and programmes to protect consumers.
These frameworks and agreement are the genesis for the institutionalizing of consumer affairs and consumer protection. Therefore, consumers can seek redress through CAD from business which have not acted in accordance with consumer rights. It is hoped that though the passage of time and as consumer affairs becomes more prevalent in our community that consumers will become greater empowered and this empowerment will bring about equilibrium in the power between consumers and suppliers.
The scope of the department is to:
- Develop and implement appropriate education programmes and information policies.
- Create and enact appropriate consumer protection legislation, regulations and policies.
- Create avenues for redress and access to justice, in cases where fair-trading and the rights of consumers are violated.
- Collaborate with non-governmental organizations and government institutions in promoting consumer interests and safeguarding consumer rights.
- Procurement of adequate supplies of basic commodities and establishment of appropriate distribution channels.
In furthering its objectives, the department's key responsibilities are to:
- Assist in developing an informed, responsible and discerning consuming public
- Monitor the legislative environment to ensure effective safeguard of consumer rights
- Create a climate for understanding the role of Government in protecting consumer interests
- Promote and ensure compliance with quality standards for consumer goods and services
- Provide the enabling environment and institutional support that would create avenues for consumer education and redress
- Adopt code of ethics, which relate to consumer practices
- Monitor the distribution and prices of controlled items to ensure compliance with existing legislation
- Ensure that adequate supplies of good quality basic commodities are available consistently and that the prices of these commodities remain at an affordable level
- Investigate consumer complaints and/or consumer organizations with respect to violations of established fair trading practices
- Collect, collate and disseminate information on matters affecting the interests of consumers
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