The 12th International Consumer Law Conference Blog

Organised by NALSAR and the International Association for Consumer Law

In a presentation entitled “Agriculturist Debtors – A Vulnerable Consumer Group”, Namrata Sharma and Priya Sharma of HNLU, Raipur brought out the plight of Indian farmers, caught up in the vicious cycle of debt compounding debt. Typically, the process starts with the deadly trio of the WTO, IMF and the WB laying down the guidelines for developing countries which are, more often than not, agro-based. The villainous trio of IMF, World Bank and WTO are in connivance with each other. With institutional credit also falling short of requirements, the recourse to unofficial sources – the village moneylender and mahajan – had increased enormously. Working in a completely unregulated environment, these agents often felt at liberty to charge extortionate rates of interest. In conclusion, various measures taken by the government were enumerated and suggestions given for further improvement. Avni Chari of NALSAR spoke about the ascendancy of MNCs over the seed industry, particularly in India. Talking about India’s first bout of farmers’ suicides in 1997, she pointed out that the cardinal reason for the suicides is the abysmal arrears the cultivators find themselves in. Moving on to the specific issue of commercialization of seeds, the researcher revealed that over the last few decades, scientists developed the ability to modify the blueprint of life i.e. DNA and it is in response to this novel scientific venture that intellectual property laws were adapted to encompass living organisms. Furthermore, India announced its globalization policy during the Narsimha Rao tenure in the early 1990’s. This prompted an effusion of MNC involvement (such as the agro-MNC of Monsanto) with India. Prior to its grand commercialization, seeds were under the ambit of the public domain. Now, seeds are owned by those patent a particular variety. The introduction and failure of Bt Cotton in India was thus discussed followed by the reasons for failure of compensation schemes for affected farmers. For instance a new survey in India has found genetically engineered cotton (Bt Cotton) is causing negative health effects among farm workers. In conclusion it was pointed out that it is government policy that needs to be cajoled out of its present position before any amount of consumer protection can be afforded. The team from RMLNLU and GNLU presented their perspective on “Multinational Companies: Consumer Protection Laws in India.” A brief introduction on multinational companies was first given wherein it was pointed out that Section 591 the Companies Act, 1956 defines “Foreign Company” as a Multinational Company having its head offfice outside India is a foreign Company. While talking about consumer protection at the international level, the role of United Nations Draft Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations, 1977 and other declarations was also discussed. In addition, the role of consumer protection in India was discussed through a cursory presentation on the Competition Act, 2002 and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 among others. The drawbacks at the international and national level were discussed and recommendations were given. In conclusion it was said that the final hypothesis that is drawn in the paper is that though there are provisions in various enactments dealing with consumer protection as far as offences by companies are concerned, stronger laws both at national as well international level are required to protect the vulnerable consumers of developing country like India.

Rapporteured by

Arushi Garg, 1st Year

Gautam Swarup, 1st Year

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