What is a Consumer?
A consumer is defined as "someone who acquires goods or services for direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production and manufacturing." Before the mid-twentieth century, consumers were without rights with regard to their interaction with products and producers. Consumers had little ground on which to defend themselves against faulty or defective products, or against misleading or deceptive advertising methods. By the 1950s, a movement called "consumerism" began pushing for increased rights and legal protection against malicious business practices. By the end of the decade, legal product liability had been established in which an aggrieved party need only prove injury by use of a product, rather than bearing the burden of proof of corporate negligence.
Consumer Bill of Rights
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy presented a speech to the United States Congress in which he extolled four basic consumer rights -- later called, The Consumer Bill of Rights (Figure 1). In 1985, these rights were expanded to eight by the United Nations. These eight rights are the:
Right to Safety
The assertion of this right is aimed at the defense of consumers against injuries caused by products other than automobile vehicles, and implies that products should cause no harm to their users if such use is executed as prescribed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has jurisdiction over thousands of commercial products, and powers that allow it to establish performance standards, require product testing and warning labels, demand immediate notification of defective products, and, when necessary, force product recall.
Right to Be Informed
This right states that businesses should always provide consumers with enough appropriate information to make intelligent and informed product choices. Product information provided by a business should always be complete and truthful. This right aims to achieve protection against misleading information in the areas of financing, advertising, labeling, and packaging.
Right to Choose
The right to free choice among product offerings states that consumers should have a variety of options provided by different companies from which to choose. The federal government has taken many steps to ensure the availability of a healthy environment open to competition through legislation, including limits on concept ownership through Patent Law, prevention of monopolistic business practices through Anti-Trust Legislation, and the outlaw of price cutting and gouging.
Right to Be Heard
This right asserts the ability of consumers to voice complaints and concerns about a product in order to have the issue handled efficiently and responsively. While no federal agency is tasked with the specific duty of providing a forum for this interaction between consumer and producer, certain outlets exist to aid consumers if difficulty occurs in communication with an aggrieving party. State and federal attorney generals are equipped to aid their constituents in dealing with parties who have provided a product or service in a manner unsatisfactory to the consumer in violation of an applicable law.
Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs
To have access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water, and sanitation.
The Right to Redress
To receive a fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services.
Right to Consumer Education
To acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services, while being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them.
Right to a Healthy Environment
To live and work in an environment which is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations.
Even though consumers have these rights, they can easily be ignored. That's where consumer protection comes in. Consumer protection consists of laws and organizations designed to ensure the rights of consumers, as well as fair trade competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves.
Organizations that promote consumer protection include government organizations, individuals as consumer activism, and self-regulating business organizations, such as consumer protection agencies and organizations, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureaus, etc.
Consumer interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the markets, which directly and indirectly serve consumers, consistent with economic efficiency.