UNITED NATIONS GUIDELINES FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION 1985

The following guidelines should apply both to home-produced goods and services and to imports. 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 obligations.

  • 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
  • Measures relating to specific areas

Physical safety

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Promotion and protection of consumers’ economic interests

  • 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.
  • 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 organisations should be encouraged to monitor adverse practices, such as the adulteration of foods, false or misleading claims in marketing and service frauds.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Governments should, where appropriate, see to it that manufacturers and/or retailers ensure adequate availability of reliable after-sales service and spare parts.
  • Consumers should be protected from contractual abuses such as one-sided standard contracts, exclusion of essential rights in contracts, and unconscionable conditions of credit by sellers.
  • 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 make informed and independent decisions, as well as measures to ensure that the information provided is accurate.
  • Governments should encourage all concerned to participate in the free flow of accurate information on all aspects of consumer products.
  • Governments should, within their own national context, encourage the formulation and implementation by business, in co-operation with consumer organisations, of codes of marketing and other business practices to ensure adequate consumer protection. Voluntary agreements may also be established jointly by business, consumer organisations and other interested parties. These codes should receive adequate publicity.
  • Governments should regularly review legislation pertaining to weights and measures and assess the adequacy of the machinery for its enforcement.

Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services

  • Governments should, as appropriate, formulate or promote the elaboration and implementation of standards, voluntary and other, at 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.
  • 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.
  • Governments should encourage and ensure the availability of facilities to test and certify the safety, quality and performance of essential consumer goods and services.

Distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services

Governments should, where appropriate, consider:

  • 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, encouraging the establishment of consumer co-operatives and related trading activities, as well as information about them, especially in rural areas.

Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress

  • Governments should publish or maintain legal and/or administrative measures to enable consumers or, as appropriate, relevant organisations to obtain redress through formal or informal procedures that are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible. Such procedure should take particular account of the needs of low-income consumers.
  • 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. Information on available redress on other dispute-resolving procedures should be made available to consumers.

Education and information programmes

  • Governments should develop or encourage the development of general consumer education and information programmes, 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 education should, where appropriate, become an integral part of the basic curriculum of the educational system, preferably as a component of existing subjects.

Consumer education and information programmes should cover important aspects of

consumer protection such as the following:

  • Health, nutrition, prevention of food-borne diseases and food adulteration.
  • Product hazards, product labelling, relevant legislation, how to obtain redress, and agencies and organisations for consumer protection.
  • Information on weights and measures, prices, quality, credit conditions and availability of basic necessities, and, as appropriate, pollution and environment.
  • Governments should encourage consumer organisations and other interested groups, including the media, to undertake education and information programmes, particularly for the benefit of low-income consumer groups in rural and urban areas.
  • Business should, where appropriate, undertake or participate in factual and relevant consumer education and information programmes.
  • 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.
  • Governments should organise 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.

Measures relating to specific areas

  • 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, standardised 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.

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 Organisations of the

United Nations and the World Health Organisations’ 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.

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.

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 Organisation on pharmaceuticals. For relevant products, the use of that organisation’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 Organisation.

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