The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection

The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 April 1985 in its resolution 39/248.[1] The Guidelines identify seven areas in which governments have to enhance their consumer policy according to their economic and social circumstances. These areas are physical safety; the 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; improved consumer redress; consumer education and information; and measures relating to specific areas, such as food, water, and pharmaceuticals. More recently, the UN Guidelines were extended in 1999 to insert sustainable consumption as a principle of consumer policy.[2] Being relatively new, sustainability may be regarded as a third-generation right aiming to improve the ecological system of the world. The inclusion of this sustainability aspect reveals a new conception of consumer empowerment: the consumer not only has the right to be protected, but must also assume a certain responsibilities for promoting a clean and healthy environment.[3]

Especially directed at developing countries, the Guidelines established a list of basic objectives to promote consumer legislation and policies. The reason for developing them was ‘that consumers often face imbalances in economic terms, education levels, and bargaining power’. In particular, the Guidelines aim to ensure consumer access to non-hazardous products, and to promote just, equitable, and sustainable economic and social development.[4]

While not a binding instrument, the Guidelines were the first measure that promoted consumer protection explicitly on an international scale.[5] The international consensus on the Guidelines for consumer protection can be seen as a general acceptance of consumer protection as a ‘universal’ right; moreover, it provides additional support for considering consumer rights as human rights.[6] Although the Guidelines are clearly not mandatory, and there is no enforcement mechanism for them, they may develop in customary law and further promote binding laws in the future.

  • [1] See .
  • [2] This new version was included by the Economic and Social Council in July 1999 and adoptedby the General Assembly in its decision 54/449.
  • [3] See more on the ‘greening’ of international consumer rights in H.-W Micklitz, ‘InternationalRegulation on Health, Safety, and the Environment—Trends and Challenges’, (2000) J. ConsumerPolicy, pp. 2-24.
  • [4] ECOSOC, Consumer Protection, Report of the Secretary General, E/1995/70.
  • [5] Although the Guidelines sparked some controversy at the beginning, they have been positively assessed in recent literature. For an initial critique, see M. Wiedenbaum, ‘The Case Againstthe United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection’, (1987) 10 J. Consumer Policy, p. 425, at432; in contrast for more recent positive assessment, see Deutch (n 4), pp. 551-2.
  • [6] Deutch (n 4), pp. 551-2.
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