Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary
Consumer protection is a form of government regulation which protects the interests of consumers. For example, a government may require businesses to disclose detailed information about products—particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue, such as food. Consumer protection is linked to the idea of consumer rights (that consumers have various rights as consumers), and to the formation of consumer organizations which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace.
Consumer interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the markets which directly and indirectly serve consumers, consistent with economic efficiency, but this topic is treated in Competition law.
Consumer protection law or consumer law is considered an area of public law that regulates private law relationships between individual consumers and the businesses that sell those goods and services. Consumer protection covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and other consumer/business interactions.
Such laws deal with credit repair, debt repair, product safety, service contracts, bill collector regulation, pricing, utility turnoffs, consolidation, personal loans that may lead to bankruptcy and much more.
In the United States, a variety of laws at both the federal or state levels regulate consumer affairs. Among them are the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Lending Act, Fair Credit Billing Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Federal consumer protection laws are mainly enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.
At the state level, many states have a Department of Consumer Affairs devoted to regulating certain industries and protecting consumers who use goods and services from those industries.
For example, in the U.S. state of California, the California Department of Consumer Affairs regulates about 2.3 million professionals in over 230 different professions, through its forty regulatory entities.
In addition, California encourages its consumers to act as private attorneys general through the liberal provisions of its Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Cal. Civil Code § 1750 et seq.
California has the nation’s strongest consumer protection laws, partly because of rigorous advocacy and lobbying by groups such as Utility Consumers’ Action Network, Consumer Federation of California and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
The European Union has been very active in the field of consumer protection, producing a considerable volume of Directives which require member states to regulate consumer protection to a particular standard (which may or may not allow a higher standard of regulation).
A very important innovation has been the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. Also Directives on Unfair Contract Terms (93/13/EC) and Electronic Commerce (2000/13/EC). There exists a European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, a post currently held by the Bulgarian Meglena Kuneva.
The Federal Republic of Germany is a member state of the European Union and is bound by the consumer protection directives of the European Union. Thus a large part of German consumer protection law has been enacted pursuant to European Directives (e.g. the directives on door-to-door sales, consumer credits, distance selling, package tours, product liability etc.). In 2002, a large part of this legislation was integrated into the German Civil Code (“Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch”).
A minister of the federal cabinet is responsible for consumer rights and protection (Verbraucherschutzminister). In the current cabinet of Angela Merkel, this is Horst Seehofer.
When issuing public warnings about products and services, the issuing authority has to take into account that this affects the supplier’s constitutionally protected economic liberty (article 12 Basic Law, see Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court)Case 3 C 34.84, 71 BVerwGE 183.
The United Kingdom is a member state of the European Union and so is bound by the consumer protection directives of the European Union. Domestic (UK) laws originated within the ambit of contract and tort but, with the influence of EU law, it is emerging as an independent area of law. In many circumstances, where domestic law is in question, the matter judicially treated as tort, contract, restitution or even criminal law.
Consumer Protection issues are dealt with when complaints are made to the Director-General of Fair Trade. The Office of Fair Trading will then investigate, impose an injunction or take the matter to litigation.
The Office of Fair Trading also acts as the UK’s official consumer and competition watchdog, with a remit to make markets work well for consumers, and at a local, municipal level by Trading Standards departments. General consumer advice can be obtained from Consumer Direct or via a local branch of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
In Australia, the corresponding agency is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the individual State Consumer Affairs agencies. In New Zealand, the corresponding agency is the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the New Zealand Commerce Commission.
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This glossary post was last updated: 18th April, 2020 | 121 Views.