Its Time for Your Consumer Audit

Intersect, April 1989. Magazine of PHP International, Singapore. (Peace, Happiness Through Prosperity (PHP) International)

Some 3,500 years ago the Hittites, an ancient civilization in the region of Anatolia in Turkey, had consumer protection laws.  The laws simply stated:

   “Thou shall not poison thy neighbour’s fat” (i.e. Do not sell unsafe products)

   “Thou shall not bewitch they neighbour’s fat” (i.e. Don’t engage in misleading or

manipulative market practices).

The middle ages saw some tough laws.  The French Law of 1481, for example, required that anyone who sells butter containing stones or other things (e.g. to fraudulently increase weight) will be put in the pillory and the offending butter will be placed on the head of the seller until entirely melted by the sun.  In addition, dogs were allowed to come and lick him and the people were allowed to insult him!

The battle for safe products and responsible market practices has continued over the centuries.  The continued exploitation of the consumer saw the birth of the organized consumer movement and in 1960, a world body, the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) was founded.

The IOCU represents some 160 organisations in some 70 countries of the world - from tiny Curacao to the giant China.  There are groups in as diverse countries as Philippines and Poland, Fiji and Finland, Brazil and Bangladesh.

On 9 April 1985, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a charter on consumer protection – its official title, the “United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection”.  This decision bestowed a universal legitimacy to the decades of efforts by consumer advocates.  The decision by the United Nations also highlighted the importance that consumer protection had on economic and social development. 

The United Nations Guidelines addressed six “legitimate needs” of consumers:

1.       The protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety.

2.       The promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers.

3.       Access of consumers to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices according to individual wishes and needs.

4.       Consumer education.

5.       Availability of effective consumer redress.

6.       Freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups of organisations and the opportunity of such organisations to present their views in decision-making processes affecting them.

The United Nations Guidelines provide a challenge to business and government.  They provide a framework for assertive, socially responsible production and marketing of goods and services.

Forward-looking organisations will now look creatively at being “consumer protectors”.  They have discovered that the bad products and services are now a high, even fatal, price to pay – courts, governments and consumers, through boycotts, will come down heavily on them!  It will pay them to undertake a consumer audit and to set up a consumer ombudsman within the corporations to independently handle complaints of consumers.  The checklist for the audit can be based on the following eight consumer rights:

·            The right to basic goods and services essential for our survival – Is your company producing socially useful products? 

·            The right to safety – Are your company’s products safe products?

·            The right to information – Are your products labeled and advertised honestly?

·            The right to choose – Is your company engaged in restrictive trade?  Where it has a monopoly, does it have special regard for consumer interest?

·            The consumer’s right to representation – Does your company ensure that the consumer voice can be heard and listened to?

·            The right to redress – Does your company have an efficient and fair policy for dealing with consumer grievances?

·            The right to consumer education – Does your corporation support measures by the school system of consumer education and not subvert it through biased commercial propaganda?

·            The right to a healthy environment – Does your company produce products environmentally benign and do not pollute and destroy the environment?

Such a consumer audit offers creative opportunities for the forward-looking executive to be a market leader in a business environment that is increasingly sensitive to consumer protection and to a fair marketplace.  Fair business practices can also pay handsomely!

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