A moral duty to act in the interests of consumers

20 Oct 09 03:58PM EST
Post by Nick Stace

I’ve spent most of the day on the phone to members which is a great way to understand some of the issues that affect people every day. The issues are wide ranging and some are very heartfelt.

One of my callers spoke about a very expensive medicine that he purchased for his daughter who was living with cancer. Tragically his daughter died before he was able to pick up the medicine from the pharmacy. He would now like a refund on the medicine or at least the knowledge that someone else living with cancer is able to make good use of it. On both fronts he is hitting a brick wall. I have agreed to call his pharmacy to see whether we can unlock the problem.

Talking to this member reinforced my view that organisations have a moral and a social duty to be supportive at a time when people are vulnerable and going through tough times. I lost my mum to cancer earlier in the year and I appreciate now more than ever that you need someone or some organisation like CHOICE on your side, fighting your corner, on issues where socially responsible companies would not have let the issue get out of hand. I may not be able to achieve any more than our member has, but it’s important to know that other people are fighting on your behalf.

The issue that topped today’s poll of greatest irritants to our members is the Telstra $2.20 penalty fee for paying cash and the difficulties people have had in getting the fee dropped (as promised by the Telstra CEO in a telephone conversation with me a few weeks ago). I’ve spoken to Telstra again and they’ve promised to remind their staff to be sympathetic to the reasons people give - whether for financial hardship or an inability to pay online now and into the future. If you’ve had difficulties getting a refund, let me know and we’ll be happy to take your case to the very top of Telstra.

There is a broader issue at stake that one member put very succinctly; should paying cash really be a punishable offence in Australia? I’d love to hear your views on this.

Finally, one member called about a few battles he is having with the fair trading department and their reluctance to look at any issue that falls outside statutory regulation. The member made me really think about what it means to treat customers fairly, which is often different from a lawyer’s interpretation of the law. It also made me think about the issue of regulators and fair trading departments being too far removed from real life consumer experiences. We all know what treating customers fairly means, somehow regulators and law makers find it harder to understand.

So perhaps all CEOs of consumer-facing organisations should sit on the phone with consumers to hear about the issues that affect them. Then maybe one day all organisations will feel they have a moral as well as a business duty to act in the interests of consumers.


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