Universal Rights of the Consumers
As the population of a country gets the highest level of income and quality of life, some community’s issues of interest become more important, like the rights of the consumers, especially regarding health and life safety.
Consumers have the right to be offered the biggest amount of goods and services by the markets, at the best prices, and with the appropriate standards of quality and safety. To this effect, consumers need both appropriate laws and public policies that control and guarantee their compliance.
The struggle to defend the rights of the consumers has paid off reaching worldwide successes as it happened in 1985 when the United Nation approved the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (English and Spanish). The Guidelines were adopted by the UN in 1985, after 10 years of campaigning, giving important legitimacy to the principles of consumer rights and also serving as a guide for the development of national consumer protection legislation.
The guidelines constitute a global framework that dictates the actions to be taken by the governments in order to promote the consumer protection and has eight main axes: basic needs, safety, information, choice, representation, redress, consumer education, and a healthy environment. It should be noted that the guidelines are not legally binding; however, they have become global as they recognize a set of basic goals. The guidelines were particularly created for the worldwide governments to apply them and develop public policies around consumer protection.
In 1999, the Guidelines were expanded to include a new section on Sustainable Consumption and Production (section G) reflecting all the environmental concerns that came up during the 90s. For example, among its principles related to the promotion and protection of the consumers’ economic interests, we can read the following:
(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.
(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.
Also, the principle related to education and information programs says:
(37.) Consumer education and information programs should cover such important aspects of consumer protection as the following: (c) Product labeling.
In this sense, we see how recognizing the consumers right, specifically the ones related to the information about the food, have been acknowledged and included in the legislation, like the European Union that within its Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers considers:
(3.) In order to achieve a high level of health protection for consumers and to guarantee their right to information, it should be ensured that consumers are appropriately informed as regards the food they consume. Consumers’ choices can be influenced by, inter alia, health, economic, environmental, social and ethical considerations.
(18.) In order to enable food information law to adapt to consumers’ changing needs for information, any considerations about the need for mandatory food information should also take account of the widely demonstrated interest of the majority of consumers in the disclosure of certain information.
(20.) Food information law should prohibit the use of information that would mislead the consumer in particular as to the characteristics of the food, food effects or properties, or attribute medicinal properties to foods. To be effective, that prohibition should also apply to the advertising and presentation of foods.
To sum it up, we can say that “The food labeling is an instrument to protect consumers and contribute to improving the food safety and nutrition”.