When selling products and services, certain core areas are generally covered by consumer protection law. In the UK, this includes safety, pricing, weights and measures, descriptions of products and services, the contract between a buyer and seller, competition between businesses, intellectual property and counterfeiting. The United Nations also requires businesses to make sure their consumers are well-informed not only about their products, but also of their rights as consumers. This includes information related to health and nutrition, product hazards, environmental impact, the use of materials [including energy + water], and electronic commerce.
Businesses that are selling services, to individuals or other businesses, have further obligations and some sectors are more tightly regulated than others. For example, under UK law, the main features of the service being offered should be explicit, if not already apparent from the context. Generally, if a price is not predetermined, a business must be able to supply a detailed estimate so that a client can use the proposed method to calculate the cost, check the figures and arrive at the price. Service providers may need to provide the terms and conditions used, including information on any contract terms that are governed by the law of a particular country.
However, consumer protection legislation is not exhaustive. In some cases, companies can get away with making false claims about their products due to loopholes in the country’s consumer protection laws. For example, Tic-tacs are able to claim that they are sugar-free (despite being made almost completely of sugar) by manipulating their serving sizes so that the US Food and Drug Administration can’t legally require them to report the ingredient’s percentage to their consumers. Because of companies and products like Tic-tac, many countries have seen an increase in lobbying for consumer protection laws to insure that consumers are protected from inaccurate product description and deception by companies.
In 2013, the UK passed the Consumer Contracts Regulations that applies to all businesses in Great Britain. The regulations aim to protect consumers in deals made with businesses off-premise, from a distance, and digitally. These regulations are especially relevant as the world has become increasingly digitised. It requires businesses to inform consumers of:
>> A description of the goods, service or digital content, including how long any commitment will last on the part of the consumer
>> The total price of the goods, service or digital service or the manner in which the price will be calculated if this can’t be determined
>> How consumers will pay for the goods or services and when the product/service will be provided to them
>> All additional delivery charges and other costs (and if these charges can't be calculated in advance, the fact that they may be payable)
>> Details of who pays for the cost of returning items if the consumer has a right to cancel and change their mind
>> Details of any right to cancel - Businesses also need to provide, or make available, a standard cancellation form to make cancelling easy
This information should be provided to consumers in a ‘durable medium' such as on paper or by email. It should be easy to access for anyone. Despite regulations like this many consumers still lack basic protections and as the world has globalised and digitalised, changes to the global marketplace are outpacing consumer protection.