United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection
The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection is a declaration of best practices in consumer protection law and policy. The Guidelines are not binding, but do provide a set of basic consumer protection objectives upon which governments have agreed, thereby serving as a policy framework for implementation at a national level. Whilst directed primarily at governments, some provisions of the Guidelines are also directed at businesses.
The earliest known statement of consumer rights at a political level was given on 15 March 1962, when President John F Kennedy of the United States delivered a speech to Congress in which he outlined four consumer rights: the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to be heard.
In 1981, the United Nations Economic and Social Council "requested the Secretary-General to continue consultations on consumer protection with a view to elaborating a set of general guidelines for consumer protection, taking particularly into account the needs of the developing countries".
In 1983, draft guidelines for consumer protection were submitted to ECOSOC in response to its request. Following extensive discussions and negotiations, the Guidelines were adopted by consensus resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 April 1985. They have since been amended by the addition of a new section on sustainable consumption on 26 July 1999.
The Guidelines originally covered seven areas: physical safety, promotion and protection of consumers' economic interests, standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services, distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services, measures enabling consumers to obtain redress, education and information programmes, and measures relating to specific areas (food, water, and pharmaceuticals). With their amendment in 1999, an eighth area, promotion of sustainable consumption, was added.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which is the subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly that holds responsibility for consumer protection and competition policy, states that the Guidelines "take into account the interests and needs of consumers, particularly those in developing countries." A 1993 report on progress in implementation of the Guidelines by the UN Secretary-General noted that most governments who responded "reported that the guidelines had had a significant impact on their work" on consumer policy.
The reception of the Guidelines within the consumer movement has been positive. One consumer advocate has described them as having "made a major contribution to the advancement of the position of consumers around the world." The eight sections of the Guidelines have also been restated as eight consumer rights by the NGO Consumers International, expanding upon those recognised by President Kennedy.
On the other hand, at the time of their negotiation the Guidelines were opposed by certain business interests and developed countries as paternalistic, and they have since been criticised as vague, overblown and unnecessary.
In 2011, Consumers International, which was involved in preparatory work for the original guidelines and the sustainable consumption amendments, developed a suggested set of further amendments to the Guidelines covering the topic of access to knowledge. A decision of UNCTAD's Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition and Consumer Protection in July 2012 to open the Guidelines for review paved the way for this to be fleshed out into a broader proposal for amendment of the Guidelines, which would introduce a number of new areas including financial services and energy. As at July 2013 the amendment of the Guidelines remains under discussion.
- Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (1998). "Consumer Protection and Sustainable Consumption: New Guidelines for the Global Consumer". ECOSOC.
- For example, article 39, "Business should, where appropriate, undertake or participate in factual and relevant consumer education and information programmes."
- Kennedy, John F. (March 15, 1962). "John F. Kennedy: Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest.". presidency.ucsb.edu. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- Secretary-General of the United Nations (1993). "Consumer protection report". Journal of Consumer Policy 16 (1).
- Brown, Robin (2011). "The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection: Making them Work in Developing Countries".
- Weidenbaum, Murray (1987). "The case against the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection". Journal of Consumer Policy 10 (4): 425–432.
- Consumers International. "Promoting Access to Knowledge through the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection".
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Report Report on the Ad Hoc Expert Meeting on Consumer Protection page 2 on 23 October 2012
- Consumers International (2013). "Contribution on the Revision of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection".
Harland, David (September 1987). "The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection". Journal of Consumer Policy 10 (3): 245–266.