Social responsibility and sustainable behaviour

As discussed earlier in this chapter, human rights contain an ethical component. They can be regarded as moral or ethical demands, which may also generate obligations to support such rights.

This finds a parallel in the consumer space, where purchasing patterns but also the lifestyle of consumers can have an important impact on environmental protection or ethical goals.[1] As we have already mentioned, the EU and other affluent economies are witnessing a still limited but visible trend towards a ‘mor- alization’ of markets, with consumers promoting environmentally friendly consumption while at the same time boycotting immoral production methods.[2]

The current consumer law framework in the EU deals neither with ethical nor sustainable consumption.[3] However, a close analysis of the Charter and of the Lisbon Treaty reveals several new provisions that may influence consumer policy in this sense.

The Charter stipulates in its preamble that ‘Enjoyment of these rights entails responsibilities and duties with regard to other persons, to the human community and to future generations’, reflecting, to a certain extent, the responsibility dimension mentioned earlier. Furthermore, Article 37 of the ‘Solidarity’ chapter of the Charter of Fundamental Rights concerns environmental protection, and expressly stipulates that: ‘A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development (emphasis added). Thus, this includes an obligation for EU policies to integrate environmental protection and to respect the principle of sustainable development.[4] Given that EU consumer policy can play a key role in promoting sustainable consumption, Article 37 may be regarded as a legal basis to establish such a policy.

Similarly, sustainable development and environmental protection are given an important place in the Lisbon Treaty. For example, Article 191TFEU enshrines for the first time the objective of ‘combating climate change’ and reinforces the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Furthermore, Title XXI on Energy aims, among other areas, to promote renewable and efficient energy. Finally,

Article 11 TFEU states that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the Union’s policies, with a view to promoting sustainable development, thus echoing Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

While these provisions do not explicitly relate environment protection to consumer law (for this latter the key reference is Article 169 of the TFEU, discussed in Chapter 2), they may have an important effect on consumer policy too, as environmental protection and consumer law are related. This link is explicitly recognized by the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection,[5] which define sustainable consumption as ‘meeting the needs of present and future generations for goods and services in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable’ (emphasis added).[6] In addition, the Guidelines cover provisions on recycling and sustainable government practices, encouraging life-cycle thinking and eco-products.

The UN Guidelines therefore make an explicit link between the ‘right’ and the ‘duty’ dimensions of consumer policies, and by so doing they establish a principle which is likely to influence future regulation.[7] While in the EU sustainable consumption has played a minor role in the Consumer Policy Strategy 2007-2013,[8] it seems to be gaining momentum with the new EU Consumer Policy Agenda issued in 2012.[9] According to this Agenda the EU would have the task of rendering consumers more conscientious on the topic of sustainable consumption and promote such an approach through coherent policy actions.

This new ‘responsibility’ trend is in line with Fredman’s and Sen’s general theoretical considerations mentioned in section 3 of this chapter. Moreover, the increasing moral awareness of consumers suggests that responsible behaviour is not totally extraneous to the current attitude of a growing group of European citizens.

  • [1] See beginning of this chapter regarding ethical market behaviour; see also M. Lori, ‘Fightingfor Human Rights: Consumption Behaviour as Political Praxis’, in Rethinking Consumer Behaviourfor the Benefit of All (Council of Europe, 2009), pp. 94 et seq.
  • [2] Stehr, Henning, & Weiler (n 3), pp. 8-12.
  • [3] OECD, Promoting Sustainable Consumption: Good Practices in OECD Countries (Paris: OECD,2008).However,DGs Environment,and Enterprise and Industry ofthe European Commission havebecome increasingly active in the field of sustainable consumption, see: and .
  • [4] See also N. de Sadeleer, ‘Droits fondamentaux et protection de l’environnement dans l’ordrejuridique de l’UE et dans la CEDH’, in C. Vedure, ‘Environmental Law and Consumer Protection’,(2011) 1 Eur. J. Consumer Law, pp. 25-6.
  • [5] This new version of the UN Guidelines including sustainable consumption was incorporatedby the Economic and Social Council in July 1999 and adopted by the General Assembly in itsDecision 54/449.
  • [6] At the international level, sustainable consumption was first established in the UN declaration adopted at the Rio summit in 1992. UN Guidelines, cl. 42.
  • [7] Even though, it should be remembered, the UN Guidelines do not have a binding status.
  • [8] See the European Commission’s website: .
  • [9] Communication from the European Commission, A European Consumer Agenda—Boosting confidence and growth, COM(2012) 225 final, 22.5.2012; sustainable consumption isalso promoted by the EU ‘Resource Efficiency Roadmap’, COM(2011) 571.
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