Consumer Protection

Consumer protection concerns the efforts of governments, not-for-profit organizations and activists to protect consumer rights, by taking into account consumers' needs and interests. The scope of consumer protection covers measures against predatory pricing, abusive business practices, unfair business practices, fraud and misrepresentation. Apart from legislation, self-regulation, including codes of conduct, also guarantees consumer protection.

The first consumer protection rules date back to 50 BCE. The Lex Julia de Annona in Rome prevented monopoly and discriminatory pricing. The law relates to corn trade and dates from the time of Julius Caesar. This act imposed a heavy fine on those who artificially increased the price of corn.

The Industrial Revolution also brought a sweeping change to production and consumption practices and created new challenges for consumer protection. Late 19th and early 20th century saw the introduction of antitrust and anti-monopoly rules. These laws were meant to address unethical pricing and food purity.

The protection of citizens has been a recurrent concern during the development of democracy. The rise of capitalism and the accumulation of wealth have led to an increase in unfair practices, with product liability and privacy issues becoming central to consumer protection.

The first governmental initiatives in the United States to protect consumers against harmful products started in the early 20th century. Journalist and activist Upton Sinclair published his book The Jungle in 1906, in which he criticized the poor conditions on the meat-packing market. In response to the publication, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an inspection of meat-packing businesses. The inspectors' findings served as a basis for the drafting and adoption of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, which were the first federal laws aimed at ensuring consumer protection.

The U.S. Congress expanded food safety legislation in 1938 with the adoption of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Set up in 1914, the Federal Trade Commission is also a key body in consumer protection. The 1960s were marked by the release of the Silent Spring by biologist Rachel Carson, who attacked chemical companies, campaigning for food safety. Carson found out that dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and pesticides contaminate food. In 1962, President John Kennedy defined the main consumer rights as the right to safety, the right to information, the right to choice and the right to be heard.

Nowadays, the United Sates has a number of federal and state laws to regulate respect of consumer rights. These include the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Truth in Lending Act.

The European Union also has consumer protection directives, such as Directive 2005/29/EC on Unfair Commercial Practices, which aims to boost consumer confidence and facilitate cross-border trade. The EU forbids misleading and aggressive marketing and exploitation of vulnerable consumers such as children.

Meanwhile, trade liberalization and rapid developments in technology require a new type of consumer advocacy. Following the onset of the electronic age, the governments the authorities are making efforts to regulate e-commerce. The authorities want to ensure that consumer protection laws and ethics apply to online shopping as well. They also want to guarantee transparency of payment methods.

Globalization has led to the emergence of the global marketplace. Therefore the global consumer protection initiatives have acquired a high profile.

At an international level, the United Nations (UN) issued consumer protection guidelines on how to protect consumers from hazards to their health and safety and to protect their economic interests. The OECD Committee on Consumer Protection is an international body instrumental in ensuring cooperation and harmonization in the field. The International Marketing Supervision Network (IMSN) and the International Society of Consumer Affairs Officials (ISCAO) are two more sector players.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Consumer Safety Regulation: Putting a Price on Life and Limb
Peter Asch.
Oxford University Press, 1988
Consumer and Trading Law: Text, Cases, and Materials
C. J. Miller; Brian W. Harvey; Deborah L. Parry.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Toward a New Model of Consumer Protection: The Problem of Inflated Transaction Costs
Sovern, Jeff.
William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 5, March 2006
Seeking a Single Policy for Contractual Fairness to Consumers: A Comparison of U.S. and E.U. Efforts
Petty, Ross D.; Hamilton, Jennifer.
The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 1, Summer 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The High Cost of Mandatory Consumer Arbitration
Budnitz, Mark E.
Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 67, No. 1-2, Spring 2004
Online Privacy and Consumer Protection: An Analysis of Portal Privacy Statements
Papacharissi, Zizi; Fernback, Jan.
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 49, No. 3, September 2005
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Online Auction Fraud: Are the Auction Houses Doing All They Should or Could to Stop Online Fraud?
Snyder, James M.
Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2, March 2000
Critical Issues in Business Conduct: Legal, Ethical, and Social Challenges for the 1990s
Walter W. Manley II; William A. Shrode.
Quorum Books, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Workplace Safety, Consumer Protection, and Product Quality"
Coping with Consumer Fraud: The Need for a Paradigm Shift
Friedman, Monroe.
The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 32, No. 1, Summer 1998
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Consumer Protection-Or Overprotection?
Winter, Metta.
Human Ecology, Vol. 28, No. 4, Fall 2000
Daily Life in the United States, 1960-1990: Decades of Discord
Myron A. Marty.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Environmental and Consumer Protection"
Pharmaceutical Dispensing in the "Wild West": Advancing Health Care and Protecting Consumers through the Regulation of Online Pharmacies
Haney, Sean P.
William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, December 2000
Product Safety and Liability Law in Japan: From Minamata to Mad Cows
Luke Nottage.
Routledge, 2004
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