Consumer Rights and Wrongs in Georgia
Georgia’s parliament is planning robust consumer rights legislation, in a country where the customer is almost always wrong.
Zurab Tkemaladze, head of the parliamentary committee on economic policy, says he is working with the another committee, for European integration, to draft the law.
The legislation will provide safety standards for consumer goods and for foodstuffs of both animal and vegetable origin.
“We will probably introduce the bill in the spring session,” Tkemaladze said. “We have started work on it, and it will probably need a bit more work, as we’ve included NGO representatives and experts. We need to cover all the issues and agree on everything, so that nothing escapes us.”
In a written response to IWPR, a spokesperson for Georgia’s National Food Agency expressed hope that the new legislation would mean “more effective mechanisms of state control”.
Despite legislation passed last May designed to simplify consumer protection and quality control procedures, one leading non-government group says the system is anything but effective at the moment.
The Centre for Strategic Studies and the Development of Georgia, CSRD, runs a website called www.momxmarebeli.ge where people can outline problems with goods they have bought. The site administrators check out the complaint and, in the case of foodstuffs, they buy some from the same source, get them checked at a laboratory, and then publish the results.
Lia Todua, a researcher at the centre, says the number of complaints she receives suggests that consumer rights are virtually non-existent.
“Product quality is not guaranteed in Georgia. Our site contains the results of lab inspections for up to 60 poor-quality products in named shops,” she said. “The rights of consumers are being violated.”
Todua says the National Food Agency conducts so few checks as to make its work pointless.
“When we tell the agency about cases we have identified, it responds to ten or to 20 per cent of them. It has done almost nothing in terms of removing harmful products from sale,” she said. “The agency is unable to run checks on more than 200 sales outlets a year. When sellers know they aren’t going to be checked, it becomes irrelevant whether the agency exists or not.”
The checks the food agency runs involve looking at food hygiene, quality and sell-by dates, the required documentation, and cleanliness, equipment and handling procedures in both storage and retail.
“We react to all violations that are reported,” its spokesman said.
When it comes to durable goods, Todua said, the warranties offered by retailers often run for as little as three days.
“We often see problems with electronic goods. Consumers don’t notice that the contracts they sign in the shops provide a period of just three days or a week to return faulty goods,” she said.
Tbilisi resident Marika bought her seven-year-old son a radio-controlled car as a New Year’s present. It broke within 24 hours, but she did not bother taking it back, even though she got it from a major shop in the city centre.
“I paid 45 laris [27 US dollars] for the toy, and it worked in the shop. If I return it, I’ll be told that it broke because we used it wrongly,” she explained. “We won’t be able to prove a thing.”
In theory, consumers can take grievances to court, but the cost of doing so generally exceeds the price of the item purchased.
Member of parliament Gela Samkharauli says the current Georgian Dream government, elected in a watershed election last year, was keen to bring the country’s legislation into line with that of European Union states.
“Defence of consumers’ rights is one of the most important parts of this process,” he said.
Tinatin Jvania works for Business Times Georgia magazine.