The term “consumer rights” is more than just a vague idea. It represents a set of globally recognized protections developed to defend consumers from corporate abuse.
Thanks to the Consumer Bill of Rights, today’s consumers have access to eight essential tools that protect them while interacting with companies and their products and services. Have you ever dealt with a faulty product or fallen victim to a consumer scam? You’ve likely been touched by one of these types of consumer rights.
First Wave of Basic Protections
In a 1962 special message to Congress, President John F. Kennedy introduced a set of guidelines stating that consumers are entitled to basic safeguards against harm from corporations. This idea was encapsulated in four basic consumer rights that paved the way for major legislation shielding consumers from corporate harm, from the Truth-in-Lending Act to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
The right to safety: Customers should be confident that the products and services they’re buying and using pose no danger to their health and are reasonably safe. What does this mean in practice? It ranges from the requirement to test products for any safety issues to issuing warnings of known risks.
The right to be informed: All pertinent facts must be presented to consumers so they can make informed buying choices. This guideline also protects against fake or misleading claims about anything from food to supplements. A common example: a supplement maker boasts their products can cure disease, but provides no credible evidence.
The right to choose: This means people should have access to a variety of products offered at different price points. The main idea here is to ensure competition in the marketplace. This prevents companies from monopolizing industries, which hampers consumer choice and pricing. Some major international companies have gotten into trouble with governments over this very issue, resulting in the payment of hefty fines and bad publicity.
The right to be heard: This is the concept that consumers should be considered before the passage of policy or laws that may impact their interests. People can exercise this right by communicating their consumer-related issues directly with lawmakers, government agencies and even the companies themselves. The hope is that enough pressure placed on these parties can lead to meaningful results. This is easier than ever now, thanks to the explosion of social media networks.
Expansion of Consumer Rights
In 1985, the set of consumer protections grew. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the four rights endorsed by Kennedy and added four more, providing guidelines for protections to consumers worldwide, including in the U.S.
The right to satisfy basic needs: Everyone has the right to life’s essentials, including food, water and shelter.
The right to redress: You've likely received a mailer stating a product you bought may present a life-threatening defect. Often, you’ll be entitled to compensation for the inconvenience of fixing or replacing that good. This principle also allows consumers to seek recourse for any harm or wrongdoing by a company, in a court of law.
The right to consumer education: This means consumers are entitled to information that will help them make educated decisions about products and services. This is important because buying decisions can impact personal finances. A series of poor, uneducated decisions by many could severely hurt an entire economy. Consumer education is usually easily accessible through several avenues, including public schools, government agency websites and nonprofit advocacy groups.
The right to a healthy environment: People have the right to a safe community – for work and play. This mainly means businesses should do their part to ensure a healthy environment, including curbing or eliminating pollution and adopting sustainability measures. Companies who knowingly violate this consumer right could face major fines and other punishments.
Your Responsibilities as a Consumer
Consumers should make sure to educate themselves about their basic rights as consumers and what they mean in theory and practice. Beyond that, diligent consumers can actually help other consumers on the whole by reporting violations and defects.
For example, after products are purchased, consumers should follow any safety guidelines before and during use. If any product defects come to light, the consumer should share concerns with the proper parties including the business in question and other consumers. Or, consumers who witness harmful corporate behavior can speak up and make reports to protect other consumers from similar harm in the future. If they believe they have personally been harmed by a product or wronged by a corporation, these consumers can take the proper steps to seek compensation, which in turn will force that corporation to update its practices.
The Consumer Bill of Rights provides eight basic consumer rights for all Americans.
Lily Rutman is a content-marketing writer and editor. Previously, she was a multimedia business journalist.