United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (as expanded in 1999)
United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection
(As expanded in 1999)
The General Assembly adopted guidelines for consumer protection by consensus on 9 April 1985 (General Assembly resolution 39/248). The guidelines provide a framework for Governments, particularly those of developing countries, to use in elaborating consumer protection policies and legislation. They are also intended to encourage international co-operation in this field.
The origins of the guidelines can be traced to the late 1970s, when the Economic and Social Council recognised that consumer protection had an important bearing on economic and social development. In 1977, the Council asked the Secretary-General to prepare a survey of national institutions and legislation in the area of consumer protection. In 1979, the Council requested a comprehensive report containing proposals for measures on consumer protection for consideration by Government. In 1981, the Council, aware of the need for an international policy framework within which further efforts for consumer protection could be pursued, requested the Secretary-General to continue consultations with the aim of developing a set of general guidelines for consumer protection, taking particularly into account the needs of the developing countries.
Accordingly, the Secretary-General carried out consultations with Governments and international organisations and submitted draft guidelines for consumer protection to the Economic and Social Council in 1983. During the next two years there were extensive discussions and negotiations among Governments on the scope and content of the guidelines, culminating in their adoption in 1985.
Since the Guidelines were adopted, the issue of environmentally sustainable consumption has taken a leap forward by the adoption of Agenda 21 and, specifically, by means of the objectives set out in its chapter 4 on changing consumption patterns. At its third session, held in New York in April 1995, the Commission on Sustainable Development had before it a report of the Secretary-General on changing consumption patterns (E/CN.17/1995/13). It subsequently adopted a work programme that called for, inter alia, the expansion of the Guidelines to include guidelines for sustainable consumption patterns (E/1995/32).
The Economic and Social Council also adopted similar resolutions (1995/53 of 28 July 1995 and 1997/53 of 23 July 1997), that requested the Secretary-General, inter alia, to elaborate the guidelines in the area of sustainable consumption patterns.
A 1998 report of the Secretary- General (E/CN.17/1998/5) also dealt with the expansion of the Guidelines. Similar recommendations were made by the Interregional Expert Group Meeting on Consumer Protection and Sustainable Consumption, held at São Paulo, Brazil, from 28 to 30 January 1998 (E/CN.17/1998/5). In 1999 ECOSOC transmitted to the General Assembly, for adoption, the amended guidelines expanded to incorporate sustainable consumption. The thus amended guidelines were duly adopted by the General Assembly.[back to top]
United Nations guidelines for consumer protection (As expanded in 1999)
1. Taking into account the interests and needs of consumers in all countries, particularly those in developing countries; recognizing that consumers often face imbalances in economic terms, educational levels, and bargaining power; and bearing in mind that consumers should have the right of access to non-hazardous products, as well as the right to promote just, equitable and sustainable economic and social development and environmental protection, these guidelines for consumer protection have the following objectives:
(a) To assist countries in achieving or maintaining adequate protection for their population as consumers;
(b) To facilitate production and distribution patterns responsive to the needs and desires of consumers;
(c) To encourage high levels of ethical conduct for those engaged in the production and distribution of goods and services to consumers;
(d) To assist countries in curbing abusive business practices by all enterprises at the national and international levels which adversely affect consumers;
(e) To facilitate the development of independent consumer groups;
(f) To further international cooperation in the field of consumer protection;
(g) To encourage the development of market conditions which provide consumers with greater choice at lower prices;
(h) To promote sustainable consumption. [back to top]
II. General principles
2. Governments should develop or maintain a strong consumer protection policy, taking into account the Guidelines set out below and relevant international agreements. In so doing, each Government should set its own priorities for the protection of consumers in accordance with the economic, social and environmental circumstances of the country and the needs of its population, bearing in mind the costs and benefits of proposed measures.
3. The legitimate needs which the guidelines are intended to meet are the following:
(a) The protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety;
(b) The promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers;
(c) Access of consumers to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices according to individual wishes and needs;
(d) Consumer education, including education on the environmental, social and economic impacts of consumer choice;
(e) Availability of effective consumer redress;
(f) Freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups or organizations and the opportunity of such organizations to present their views in decision-making processes affecting them;
(g) The promotion of sustainable consumption patterns.
4. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, particularly in industrialized countries, are the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment. All countries should strive to promote sustainable consumption patterns; developed countries should take the lead in achieving sustainable consumption patterns; developing countries should seek to achieve sustainable consumption patterns in their development process, having due regard to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The special situation and needs of developing countries in this regard should be fully taken into account.
5. Policies for promoting sustainable consumption should take into account the goals of eradicating poverty, satisfying the basic human needs of all members of society, and reducing inequality within and between countries.
6. Governments should provide or maintain adequate infrastructure to develop, implement and monitor consumer protection policies. Special care should be taken to ensure that measures for consumer protection are implemented for the benefit of all sectors of the population, particularly the rural population and people living in poverty.
7. All enterprises should obey the relevant laws and regulations of the countries in which they do business. They should also conform to the appropriate provisions of international standards for consumer protection to which the competent authorities of the country in question have agreed. (Hereinafter references to international standards in the guidelines should be viewed in the context of this paragraph.)
8. The potential positive role of universities and public and private enterprises in research should be considered when developing consumer protection policies. [back to top]
9. The following guidelines should apply both to home-produced goods and services and to imports.
10. In applying any procedures or regulations for consumer protection, due regard should be given to ensuring that they do not become barriers to international trade and that they are consistent with international trade obligations.
A. Physical safety
11. Governments should adopt or encourage the adoption of appropriate measures, including legal systems, safety regulations, national or international standards, voluntary standards and the maintenance of safety records to ensure that products are safe for either intended or normally foreseeable use.
12. Appropriate policies should ensure that goods produced by manufacturers are safe for either intended or normally foreseeable use. Those responsible for bringing goods to the market, in particular suppliers, exporters, importers, retailers and the like (hereinafter referred to as “distributors”), should ensure that while in their care these goods are not rendered unsafe through improper handling or storage and that while in their care they do not become hazardous through improper handling or storage. Consumers should be instructed in the proper use of goods and should be informed of the risks involved in intended or normally foreseeable use. Vital safety information should be conveyed to consumers by internationally understandable symbols wherever possible.
13. Appropriate policies should ensure that if manufacturers or distributors become aware of unforeseen hazards after products are placed on the market, they should notify the relevant authorities and, as appropriate, the public without delay. Governments should also consider ways of ensuring that consumers are properly informed of such hazards.
14. Governments should, where appropriate, adopt policies under which, if a product is found to be seriously defective and/or to constitute a substantial and severe hazard even when properly used, manufacturers and/or distributors should recall it and replace or modify it, or substitute another product for it; if it is not possible to do this within a reasonable period of time, the consumer should be adequately compensated.
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B. Promotion and protection of consumers’ economic interests
15. Government policies should seek to enable consumers to obtain optimum benefit from their economic resources. They should also seek to achieve the goals of satisfactory production and performance standards, adequate distribution methods, fair business practices, informative marketing and effective protection against practices which could adversely affect the economic interests of consumers and the exercise of choice in the market place.
16. Governments should intensify their efforts to prevent practices which are damaging to the economic interests of consumers through ensuring that manufacturers, distributors and others involved in the provision of goods and services adhere to established laws and mandatory standards. Consumer organizations should be encouraged to monitor adverse practices, such as the adulteration of foods, false or misleading claims in marketing and service frauds.
17. Governments should develop, strengthen or maintain, as the case may be, measures relating to the control of restrictive and other abusive business practices which may be harmful to consumers, including means for the enforcement of such measures. In this connection, Governments should be guided by their commitment to the Set of Multilaterally Agreed Equitable Principles and Rules for the Control of Restrictive Business Practices adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 35/63 of 5 December 1980.
18. Governments should adopt or maintain policies that make clear the responsibility of the producer to ensure that goods meet reasonable demands of durability, utility and reliability, and are suited to the purpose for which they are intended, and that the seller should see that these requirements are met. Similar policies should apply to the provision of services.
19. Governments should encourage fair and effective competition in order to provide consumers with the greatest range of choice among products and services at the lowest cost.
20. Governments should, where appropriate, see to it that manufacturers and/or retailers ensure adequate availability of reliable after-sales service and spare parts.
21. Consumers should be protected from such contractual abuses as one-sided standard contracts, exclusion of essential rights in contracts, and unconscionable conditions of credit by sellers.
22. Promotional marketing and sales practices should be guided by the principle of fair treatment of consumers and should meet legal requirements. This requires the provision of the information necessary to enable consumers to take informed and independent decisions, as well as measures to ensure that the information provided is accurate.
23. Governments should encourage all concerned to participate in the free flow of accurate information on all aspects of consumer products.
24. Consumer access to accurate information about the environmental impact of products and services should be encouraged through such means as product profiles, environmental reports by industry, information centres for consumers, voluntary and transparent eco-labelling programmes and product information hotlines.
25. Governments, in close collaboration with manufacturers, distributors and consumer organizations, should take measures regarding misleading environmental claims or information in advertising and other marketing activities. The development of appropriate advertising codes and standards for the regulation and verification of environmental claims should be encouraged.
26. Governments should, within their own national context, encourage the formulation and implementation by business, in cooperation with consumer organizations, of codes of marketing and other business practices to ensure adequate consumer protection. Voluntary agreements may also be established jointly by business, consumer organizations and other interested parties. These codes should receive adequate publicity.
27. Governments should regularly review legislation pertaining to weights and measures and assess the adequacy of the machinery for its enforcement. [back to top]
C. Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services
28. Governments should, as appropriate, formulate or promote the elaboration and implementation of standards, voluntary and other, at the national and international levels for the safety and quality of goods and services and give them appropriate publicity. National standards and regulations for product safety and quality should be reviewed from time to time, in order to ensure that they conform, where possible, to generally accepted international standards.
29. Where a standard lower than the generally accepted international standard is being applied because of local economic conditions, every effort should be made to raise that standard as soon as possible.
30. Governments should encourage and ensure the availability of facilities to test and certify the safety, quality and performance of essential consumer goods and services. [back to top]
D. Distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services
31. Governments should, where appropriate, consider:
(a) Adopting or maintaining policies to ensure the efficient distribution of goods and services to consumers; where appropriate, specific policies should be considered to ensure the distribution of essential goods and services where this distribution is endangered, as could be the case particularly in rural areas. Such policies could include assistance for the creation of adequate storage and retail facilities in rural centres, incentives for consumer self-help and better control of the conditions under which essential goods and services are provided in rural areas;
(b) Encouraging the establishment of consumer cooperatives and related trading activities, as well as information about them, especially in rural areas. [back to top]
E. Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress
32. Governments should establish or maintain legal and/or administrative measures to enable consumers or, as appropriate, relevant organizations to obtain redress through formal or informal procedures that are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible. Such procedures should take particular account of the needs of low-income consumers.
33. Governments should encourage all enterprises to resolve consumer disputes in a fair, expeditious and informal manner, and to establish voluntary mechanisms, including advisory services and informal complaints procedures, which can provide assistance to consumers.
34. Information on available redress and other dispute-resolving procedures should be made available to consumers. [back to top]
F. Education and information programmes
35. Governments should develop or encourage the development of general consumer education and information programmes, including information on the environmental impacts of consumer choices and behaviour and the possible implications, including benefits and costs, of changes in consumption, bearing in mind the cultural traditions of the people concerned. The aim of such programmes should be to enable people to act as discriminating consumers, capable of making an informed choice of goods and services, and conscious of their rights and responsibilities. In developing such programmes, special attention should be given to the needs of disadvantaged consumers, in both rural and urban areas, including low-income consumers and those with low or non-existent literacy levels. Consumer groups, business and other relevant organizations of civil society should be involved in these educational efforts.
36. Consumer education should, where appropriate, become an integral part of the basic curriculum of the educational system, preferably as a component of existing subjects. 37. Consumer education and information programmes should cover such important aspects of consumer protection as the following:
(a) Health, nutrition, prevention of food-borne diseases and food adulteration;
(b) Product hazards;
(c) Product labelling;
(d) Relevant legislation, how to obtain redress, and agencies and organizations for consumer protection;
(e) Information on weights and measures, prices, quality, credit conditions and availability of basic necessities;
(f) Environmental protection; and
(g) Efficient use of materials, energy and water.
38. Governments should encourage consumer organizations and other interested groups, including the media, to undertake education and information programmes, including on the environmental impacts of consumption patterns and on the possible implications, including benefits and costs, of changes in consumption, particularly for the benefit of low-income consumer groups in rural and urban areas.
39. Business should, where appropriate, undertake or participate in factual and relevant consumer education and information programmes.
40. Bearing in mind the need to reach rural consumers and illiterate consumers, Governments should, as appropriate, develop or encourage the development of consumer information programmes in the mass media.
41. Governments should organize or encourage training programmes for educators, mass media professionals and consumer advisers, to enable them to participate in carrying out consumer information and education programmes. [back to top]>
G. Promotion of sustainable consumption
42. Sustainable consumption includes meeting the needs of present and future generations for goods and services in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
43. Responsibility for sustainable consumption is shared by all members and organizations of society, with informed consumers, Government, business, labour organizations, and consumer and environmental organizations playing particularly important roles. Informed consumers have an essential role in promoting consumption that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, including through the effects of their choices on producers. Governments should promote the development and implementation of policies for sustainable consumption and the integration of those policies with other public policies. Government policy making should be conducted in consultation with business, consumer and environmental organizations, and other concerned groups. Business has a responsibility for promoting sustainable consumption through the design, production and distribution of goods and services. Consumer and environmental organizations have a responsibility for promoting public participation and debate on sustainable consumption, for informing consumers, and for working with Government and business towards sustainable consumption.
44. Governments, in partnership with business and relevant organizations of civil society, should develop and implement strategies that promote sustainable consumption through a mix of policies that could include regulations; economic and social instruments; sectoral policies in such areas as land use, transport, energy and housing; information programmes to raise awareness of the impact of consumption patterns; removal of subsidies that promote unsustainable patterns of consumption and production; and promotion of sector-specific environmental-management best practices.
45. Governments should encourage the design, development and use of products and services that are safe and energy and resource efficient, considering their full life-cycle impacts. Governments should encourage recycling programmes that encourage consumers to both recycle wastes and purchase recycled products.
46. Governments should promote the development and use of national and international environmental health and safety standards for products and services; such standards should not result in disguised barriers to trade.
47. Governments should encourage impartial environmental testing of products.
48. Governments should safely manage environmentally harmful uses of substances and encourage the development of environmentally sound alternatives for such uses. New potentially hazardous substances should be evaluated on a scientific basis for their long-term environmental impact prior to distribution.
49. Governments should promote awareness of the health-related benefits of sustainable consumption and production patterns, bearing in mind both direct effects on individual health and collective effects through environmental protection.
50. Governments, in partnership with the private sector and other relevant organizations, should encourage the transformation of unsustainable consumption patterns through the development and use of new environmentally sound products and services and new technologies, including information and communication technologies, that can meet consumer needs while reducing pollution and depletion of natural resources.
51. Governments are encouraged to create or strengthen effective regulatory mechanisms for the protection of consumers, including aspects of sustainable consumption.
52. Governments should consider a range of economic instruments, such as fiscal instruments and internalization of environmental costs, to promote sustainable consumption, taking into account social needs, the need for disincentives for unsustainable practices and incentives for more sustainable practices, while avoiding potential negative effects for market access, in particular for developing countries.
53. Governments, in cooperation with business and other relevant groups, should develop indicators, methodologies and databases for measuring progress towards sustainable consumption at all levels. This information should be publicly available.
54. Governments and international agencies should take the lead in introducing sustainable practices in their own operations, in particular through their procurement policies. Government procurement, as appropriate, should encourage development and use of environmentally sound products and services.
55. Governments and other relevant organizations should promote research on consumer behaviour related to environmental damage in order to identify ways to make consumption patterns more sustainable. [back to top]
H. Measures relating to specific areas
56. In advancing consumer interests, particularly in developing countries, Governments should, where appropriate, give priority to areas of essential concern for the health of the consumer, such as food, water and pharmaceuticals. Policies should be adopted or maintained for product quality control, adequate and secure distribution facilities, standardized international labelling and information, as well as education and research programmes in these areas. Government guidelines in regard to specific areas should be developed in the context of the provisions of this document.
57. Food. When formulating national policies and plans with regard to food, Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization Codex Alimentarius or, in their absence, other generally accepted international food standards. Governments should maintain, develop or improve food safety measures, including, inter alia, safety criteria, food standards and dietary requirements and effective monitoring, inspection and evaluation mechanisms.
58. Governments should promote sustainable agricultural policies and practices, conservation of biodiversity, and protection of soil and water, taking into account traditional knowledge.
59. Water. Governments should, within the goals and targets set for the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, formulate, maintain or strengthen national policies to improve the supply, distribution and quality of water for drinking. Due regard should be paid to the choice of appropriate levels of service, quality and technology, the need for education programmes and the importance of community participation.
60. Governments should assign high priority to the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes concerning the multiple uses of water, taking into account the importance of water for sustainable development in general and its finite character as a resource. [back to top]
61. Pharmaceuticals. Governments should develop or maintain adequate standards, provisions and appropriate regulatory systems for ensuring the quality and appropriate use of pharmaceuticals through integrated national drug policies which could address, inter alia, procurement, distribution, production, licensing arrangements, registration systems and the availability of reliable information on pharmaceuticals. In so doing, Governments should take special account of the work and recommendations of the World Health Organization on pharmaceuticals. For relevant products, the use of that organization’s Certification Scheme on the Quality of Pharmaceutical Products Moving in International Commerce and other international information systems on pharmaceuticals should be encouraged. Measures should also be taken, as appropriate, to promote the use of international non-proprietary names (INNs) for drugs, drawing on the work done by the World Health Organization.
62. In addition to the priority areas indicated above, Governments should adopt appropriate measures in other areas, such as pesticides and chemicals in regard, where relevant, to their use, production and storage, taking into account such relevant health and environmental information as Governments may require producers to provide and include in the labelling of products.
IV. International cooperation
63. Governments should, especially in a regional or subregional context:
(a) Develop, review, maintain or strengthen, as appropriate, mechanisms for the exchange of information on national policies and measures in the field of consumer protection;
(b) Cooperate or encourage cooperation in the implementation of consumer protection policies to achieve greater results within existing resources. Examples of such cooperation could be collaboration in the setting up or joint use of testing facilities, common testing procedures, exchange of consumer information and education programmes, joint training programmes and joint elaboration of regulations;
(c) Cooperate to improve the conditions under which essential goods are offered to consumers, giving due regard to both price and quality. Such cooperation could include joint procurement of essential goods, exchange of information on different procurement possibilities and agreements on regional product specifications.
64. Governments should develop or strengthen information links regarding products which have been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted in order to enable other importing countries to protect themselves adequately against the harmful effects of such products.
65. Governments should work to ensure that the quality of products, and information relating to such products, does not vary from country to country in a way that would have detrimental effects on consumers.
66. To promote sustainable consumption, Governments, international bodies and business should work together to develop, transfer and disseminate environmentally sound technologies, including through appropriate financial support from developed countries, and to devise new and innovative mechanisms for financing their transfer among all countries, in particular to and among developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
67. Governments and international organizations, as appropriate, should promote and facilitate capacity building in the area of sustainable consumption, particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. In particular, Governments should also facilitate cooperation among consumer groups and other relevant organizations of civil society, with the aim of strengthening capacity in this area.
68. Governments and international bodies, as appropriate, should promote programmes relating to consumer education and information.
69. Governments should work to ensure that policies and measures for consumer protection are implemented with due regard to their not becoming barriers to international trade, and that they are consistent with international trade obligations. This document has been downloaded online from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) website.