E-Complain: The Role of ICT in Consumer Protection
Shahed Uddin Akbar1, Parvez Mohammed Asheque2, Shariful Islam3
Project Management Team, Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development
House B 165, Road 23, Mohakhali DOHS, Dhaka 1206, Bangladesh
Abstract— The concept of consumer rights is a new concept here not aware of their rights as consumers of Bangladesh; they do
in Bangladesh. Most of the consumers’ are not aware of this not have the knowledge or the idea that when they purchase a
concept. The idea that consumers’ have a right to be protected good or service, then that good or service needs to be of a
from unethical business practices is a new idea in this country. certain quality, and must be safe for consumption. "In fact,
The Consumers Association of Bangladesh has pioneered the
idea of consumer protection here in Bangladesh. Bangladesh
consumerism is still a new concept in Bangladesh and the very
Institute of ICT in Development in collaboration with Consumers term 'Consumer Rights' is not known even to the great
Association of Bangladesh is implementing the use of ICT in majority of those who are literate" says Quazi Faruque,
consumers’ rights and protection. This paper takes a look at Secretary General of Consumers Association of Bangladesh
what has so far been done, and lays out some of the plans that (CAB) in an article published in the Daily Star newspaper on
Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development has for spreading an September 7, 2003.
awareness amongst consumers’ in Bangladesh about consumer However, with the increased penetration of the media,
rights and protection. particularly the electronic media, into the lives of the people
gradually there has been a shift in the attitudes of the people.
Keywords— Awareness building; Consumer Protection;
Consumer Rights; Human Rights
People are becoming increasingly aware of what their rights
are, and are increasingly demanding them. It is hoped that
I. INTRODUCTION with the long awaited 'Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2008',
enacted recently, the situation will change for the better.
The economy of Bangladesh has been growing steadily over
the last ten years, during this period growth averaged at II. BACKGROUND
around 5%. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reports that
the growth rate for the financial years 2004, 2005 and 2006 In recent days, we can hear people talking about corporate
has been 6.27%, 5.96% and 6.63% respectively . With this social responsibilities (CSR), empowering consumers’ rights,
level of growth, what can be seen is that there has been a practicing good governance and so on. If we look at these
proliferation of all kinds of economic activity. Where there is issues from a wider angle, we can substantiate that these are
more economic activity, there will be more jobs for people to all connected with human rights. As citizens, we are
engage in; where there are more people employed, there will privileged to receive certain services from the government.
be more discretionary spending on goods and services by That is why we pay taxes; we vote into parliament every five
consumers and more business organizations are willing to step years a group of lawmakers who are expected to serve the
in to fulfil that demand for more goods and services. interests of those who sent them there. In return, government
Bangladesh has thus been drawn into a wave of consumption, vows to give us an ideal environment to live a healthy life.
fuelled by this rise in income, as well as increased But in reality, do we have an ideal environment to live in?
urbanization. Can we say about the things which we eat and drink is safe
However, in a situation with a rapid increase in the enough? Why are we concerned of being cheated on quality,
availability and consumption of goods and services, if the weight and quantity, when we shop at the supermarket? Why
consumers are not aware of their rights they may fall prey to we are not satisfied with the services of government
cases of business malpractice. In an environment where the departments’ like hospitals, law and order, police and so on?
consumer is unaware of their rights, where the consumers are The answer of these questions could be very simple—we
not familiar with the laws which are in place to protect them never ask: why are things the way they are? We don’t have
and how best to seek redress of actual grievances, then this practice of raising issues or lodging complaints onsite or
exploitation of the consumers by the unscrupulous sections of offsite. Perhaps the reason is because we don’t know where to
the business community can be rampant. This lack of lodge complaints, or the process is too involved, complicated
awareness is widespread throughout Bangladesh. “People are and demanding and therefore not worth the trouble. Besides,
not aware that they have so many rights as consumers” writes there is no vested government department to address and
Syed Gouseuzzaman Haideri Ali in the Daily Star newspaper validate complaints against any authority.
published on June 14th, 2008 . So the main problem is one There are only few non profit organizations who have been
of awareness, knowledge and perception. The consumers are working in raising issues and awareness on various grounds
where, different forms of human rights are often violated. cheated by consuming any product or service. Moreover, they
Among them, Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) is will find useful educational resources on consumers’ rights,
one of the frontrunner who has been working in empowering related laws and awareness materials. e-complain simply
consumers’ rights in Bangladesh since 1978. As a non- means the lodging of a complaint using internet. That fact that
governmental, non-political and non-profit voluntary developing adequate physical access points for consumers call
organization, CAB started as a social group to protect forth extensive investment in physical facilities and human
consumers from commodity adulteration and artificial price- capital, unlocking potentials of ICTs could not wait. . Hence,
hike. It has gradually widened its scope to establish and e-complain evolved to facilitate consumers access to an
safeguard consumers’ rights and interests in social, economic, interface to voice their concerns and complaints. Supported
health and environmental issues. CAB was registered with the by Consumers International (CI), CAB in collaboration with
Department of Social Services, Government of Bangladesh BIID has introduced an ICT enabled web based consumer
vide reg. No DHA-01247 dated 14 March 1983 and with the rights advocacy portal and online complaint handling
NGO Affairs Bureau with reg. no. DSS/FDO/R-197 dated 2 mechanism . This unique web portal will allow the consumers
March 1986. CAB is also a full member of Consumers a distinct platform and opportunity to be vocal about their
International . rights, concerns and issues. Simultaneously the purpose is
Recently, with the enactment of Consumer Protection Act also to raise awareness, educate and empower the consumer
2008, consumerism or consumers’ rights movement took a on consumer rights and the legal protection afforded to them
new shape and pace in Bangladesh. Taking advantage of this under the newly promulgated 'Consumer Protection Act 2008'.
legal setting, CAB has initiated to take its movement to So the main objective of this portal is to provide following
another level by integrating ICT enabled web based consumer services:
rights advocacy and online complain handling mechanism in Provide an efficient, fair and accessible e-based
collaboration with Bangladesh Institute of ICT in mechanism for resolving consumers’ complaints.
Development (BIID). BIID is a distinct initiative to support Recognize, protect and promote consumers’ rights
development and promotion of Information and and educate consumers’ about consumer protection.
Communication Technology (ICT) based services in Increase the level of user satisfaction with the
Bangladesh . The distinction of BIID lies in clear delivery of services.
identification of ICT market development opportunities
through continuous knowledge management, innovation and IV. METHODOLOGY
development. CAB understood that an efficient mechanism of The type of methodology used was two-fold-a desk research
complain handling can ensure the rights of consumers in a followed by collection of primary data. Objective of the field
better way; in this process, BIID supported development of research was to take stock of existing initiatives/actors, issues
an online web portal (website) http://www.complain.com.bd and mechanisms to empower consumers in Bangladesh and
to provide consumers with a platform to voice their concerns, also in other developing and developed countries. Primary
lodge complaints and seek redress of their complaint. data collection centred around a) assessment of existing
mechanism and capacity of CAB and development of a user
III. RATIONALE friendly web-based mechanism to serve consumers b)
The idea behind implementing ICT into consumer protection identification of a list of immediately actionable consumer
is to empower the consumer; to enable the consumer in complaints or issues to do a trial run of the mechanism that
protecting their own rights, privileges and interests. It is only was in progress.
when the citizen is aware of their rights as consumers and The target of opportunity being the urban consumers, field
there are readily available convenient access points and survey was conducted in eight different locations in and
mechanisms to report and bring to light violation of rights and around Dhaka; namelyDhanmondhi, Banani, Baridhara, Uttara,
to voice their concerns, that they can be empowered. Up to Mohammadpur, Segunbaicha, Savar Jahangirnagar University
now, such access points and mechanisms were not readily and Baira in Manikganj. A total of 1569 samples were
available. Clearly there was a gap in the consumer rights and randomly picked from strategic locations like shopping malls,
protection framework, which needed to be filled. With local bazaars, university/school campus etc. The randomly
increased provision of shared access to internet all over the selected target group consisted of school students, housewives,
country and increasing penetration of Information and farmers, office workers, university and college students, small
Communication Technology, a positive environment is being business owners and pensioners. The survey teams collected
created as internet usage has significantly increased across the well over 600 complaints which were related to consumer
country. There are around 2102 telecenters, numerous rights. The results of the field survey are summarized below:
numbers of cyber cafes and internet access points in schools, 1. The persons sampled had a difficult time
colleges and households across the country starting from understanding what the survey was about.
urban, semi-urban to rural areas . Using this extensive 2. The level of awareness about consumer rights issues
virtual network, BIID envisioned establishment of an online is very low amongst the citizens of Bangladesh.
platform, where consumers can easily get access to internet 3. Levels of consumer satisfaction are very low in
and lodge an e-complain if they feel that they have been Bangladesh.
4. When provided with the opportunity to voice their
concerns and issues, the people surveyed were
forthright in coming forward.
5. There is a demand for such a service where citizens
will be able to voice their complaints.
Based on the findings of the field survey, the decision was
taken to move forward and to create a web portal, which will
provide citizens with a platform through which they can voice
their complaints and through which they will be able to
educate themselves about consumer rights and protection.
In setting up the web based portal, BIID had to assess the
extent of information management in the handling of
consumer complaint. At this point, the focus was on trying to
understand and learn the scope for ICT in consumer protection
intervention. For this, a market survey was conducted to find
out the level of consumer awareness about issues of consumer
safety and protection and to gauge the ability of ICT to have a
positive impact on these issues. BIIB also had to assess the
capacity of CAB in handling consumer complaint in a timely
and efficient manner. Where needed, BIID conducted capacity
building training programmes for CAB staff. BIID, as part of
the collaboration, designed and initiated the web access portal. Figure 1: Schematic of http://www.complain.com.bd
The web portal focuses on the following areas:
VI. PLANNED OUTCOME
• Complaint lodging mechanism,
• Advisory Services, The use of ICT in consumer protection is a new concept and
model in Bangladesh, and hence it is an ever evolving project.
• Consumers’ capacity and awareness building.
The framework of the sector is not yet fixed, but rather it is
The design of the web portal is such that it provides a user
still very fluid. It is still in the learning phase, and continuous
friendly experience for consumers to lodge e-complaints and
improvements in the complaint mechanism, consumer
other inquiries. In order to allow all user groups to be able to
awareness mechanisms are being implemented as further
access and use the portal, it allows the consumers to lodge an
knowledge about the entire process is gained and integrated
e-complain in both Bangla and English. The web portal
into the mechanism. However, the long term goals of
contains the following features:
implementing ICT via the use of the web portal are three fold.
• The Homepage shows six boxes with a simple text
• Firstly, by providing an efficient, fair and accessible
on online complain handling mechanism.
e-based mechanism to resolve consumer
• Complaint Form contains both Bangla and English
complaints, it is hoped that CAB will become
more adept at handling, processing and
• In the Reports section users will find the last ten channelling of the complaints more efficiently. In
complaints filed, along with the complaints archive. this way, CAB will become, as an organization,
• In the Opinions & Comments section, users will get more relevant to the consumers of Bangladesh.
feedback from the authorities concerned with respect • Secondly, it is hoped that the business community
to their complaint. Besides this, the users can also will learn to view the complaints as an opportunity
share their views and ideas in this section. to learn and correct problems; businesses need to
• Advisory Services will provide the relevant laws with learn to look at complaints as providing
regards to consumerism and a helping wizard that constructive criticism and ideas for making their
will guide the user to become a more intelligent product better in the long run.
consumer. • And lastly, it is hoped that the consumers of
• And lastly, the Help section contains a guideline to Bangladesh will become aware of the concept of
use the web portal properly. ‘consumer rights’ and ‘consumer protection’; and
that they will be aware of the convenient access
points and mechanism to voice their grievances
and to be further empowered to demand their
The use of ICT has the potential to revolutionize the concept important is that the Act is stringently implemented; this will
of consumer protection in Bangladesh. Already there are ensure that the Act is effective in assuring the rights of the
some success cases which can be showcased. An example is consumers.
provided below. Consumer complaint handling and counselling has been a
Recently, a consumer filled out an e-complain form online at severely neglected area in Bangladesh. We simply do not have
the web portal. This particular consumer’s issue was that he the culture of complaining about something and expecting that
has purchased an Instant Power Supply (IPS) from one of the something will get done about it. It is a question of mindset
main dealer of a leading producer. The consumer’s complain and of our attitudes which needs to be changed; which is why
was that the IPS was not being serviced as agreed at the time the establishment of self reliant, responsive and empowered
of purchase from the dealer. After filing the e-complain consumers’ community will be a long and difficult journey,
online, CAB forwarded the matter to the producer, who dealt requiring strong motivation among the CAB staff, volunteers
with the matter within one day. and people involved in the process, will be the main criteria to
This is an example of what the web enabled access point is critical success factor. The key is to remain focused and to
expected to facilitate: not lose sight of the vision towards which everyone is working.
• The consumer files an e-complain at the web portal, Another factor that needs to remain in mind is that it is
and the matter is forwarded to CAB. relatively easier to receive customer service from the
established, big businesses that have a dedicated department
for customer service. However, there are many small
businesses that do not have such services and getting customer
• CAB then processes the complaint efficiently and in service from these establishments will be that much more
turn forwards the issue to the concerned business. difficult as they may not be as responsive to the needs of the
consumer when compared to the big, established businesses.
For instant, a business may sell a product with a one year
warranty; however the product fails after a few months. In
• The concerned business will handle and take care of such a case, it may be very difficult to get customer service
the matter in a prompt and timely manner. for the product. It is mainly a matter of mindset and attitude.
The consumer must learn to be aware of what it is that they
The above schema is a good illustration of the process by are purchasing, from where they are purchasing the product
which consumers will be able to voice their grievances and and what kind of servicing they can expect from the dealer. If
have their issues looked after. they keep this in mind, then a significant number of cases of
customer dissatisfaction will not occur.
The major limitation in using ICT for consumer protection is IX. WHAT NEXT?
that while computer technology has the potential of reducing At this stage, having set up the web access portal, the next
costs, time and hassle for the consumers, it is not in step involves planning and launching a consumer awareness
widespread use outside of the urban areas. While many areas campaign of the web enabled portal. Towards this end,
are connected, many rural areas are yet to be connected to the numerous promotional activities will be planned and executed
Internet and this is compounded by the fact that there is a vast at the appropriate time.
section of the population (in both the rural and urban areas) Another next step would be to educate the illiterate rural
who are computer illiterate and are unable to use computers. communities who are ignorant of their rights and are in a
In addition, most rural consumers do not have anyone to turn disadvantaged situation when their rights as consumers are
to at the moment for advice and counselling when they have violated. BIID proposes to work with CAB in empowering
issues with regards to the consumption of a particular good or rural communities by facilitating their access to ICT. BIID is
service. There is hence a need to have more physical access in a unique position to facilitate this process, by having access
points where the consumer can go to and file or drop off a to rural communities all over Bangladesh through its ongoing
complaint form. Alternatively, there can be increased collaboration with Grameen Phone’s Community Information
telephone access which the consumer can dial and lodge his or Centre (GPCIC) network. There are GPCICs in operation in
her complaint. Given the widespread use of cellular phone 565 Upazilas and by 2011 it is Grameen Phone’s intention to
technology, this option may be the best alternative. link all villages in Bangladesh with a CIC. BIID intends to
The perception of government by many consumers is also take advantage of this network in supporting the work of CAB
another major limitation. Most consumers have the view that in consumer rights protection and awareness building in the
big bureaucracies are threatening, inaccessible, overpowering rural communities in Bangladesh.
and not very consumer friendly. The government needs to get Towards this end, BIID proposes to put in place the following
involved in the area of consumer protection, their role being initiative progressively:
one of setting the rules and regulations and monitoring to the • Exploit private sector ICT initiatives to spread
activities all parties concerned to ensure a level playing field consumer access points throughout the country.
for all. Towards this, the enactment of the Consumer Rights
Protection Act 2008 is a positive first step. What now is most
• Initiate ICT based consumer education campaign information and skills so that they are able to protect their
through Tele-centres (GPCICs) and develop a rights and interests as consumers and citizens of Bangladesh.
mechanism for rural consumers to voice their
• Use ICT to ensure that CAB has the capacity to  Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. (2009). Statistics Bangladesh 2006.
address consumers’ concerns and complaints. http://www.bbs.gov.bd/dataindex/stat_bangladesh.pdf
• Link Customer Information and feedback mechanism  Syed Gouseuzzaman Haideri Ali. (2008) Consumer Rights and
with local government institutions in their provision Bangladesh Constitution. [Online]. Available:
for essential public services. http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2008/06/02/investigation.htm
 Quazi Faruque. (2003). Consumer Rights: Where Do We Stand?
• Address human rights. [Online]. Available: http://www.the
• Address children’s rights. dailystar.net/law200309/01/index.htm
• Address women’s rights.  Quazi Faruque. (2003). Consumer Rights: Where Do We Stand?
[Online]. Available: http://www.the
• Address environmental protection issues. dailystar.net/law200309/01/index.htm
• And finally address issues about citizen’s rights.  (2009) Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development website. [Online].
The above plan of action is designed to educate, enlighten and Available: http://www.biid.org.bd/about.htm
 (2009) Bangladesh Telecentre Network website. [Online]. Available:
make aware the rural communities of their consumer rights. It http://www.mission2011.net.bd/index.php
is the vision of BIID to help facilitate CAB’s mission to
empower the consumers of Bangladesh with knowledge,