In the 1950s, fueled by a thriving middle class, a movement called consumerism began to emerge. The thinking was that consumers had a right to be treated well and fairly by businesses. This thinking solidified with a 1962 speech in which President John F. Kennedy presented to Congress the idea of four specific consumer rights, which eventually became known as the "Consumer Bill of Rights." It was endorsed by the United Nations, which added two more rights, in 1985.
To Be Safe
The right to be safe asserts that customers must be protected from harm caused by faulty products or service. This became a reality when the Consumer Product Safety Act established the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, in 1972. This federal agency has the authority to set performance standards, require companies to test their products and include warning labels on them, and compel product recalls.
To Choose Freely
The right to choose freely means consumers have a right to choose from a wide range of products when shopping. Government practices to promote this right include time limits on patents and regulations against unfair pricing practices.
To Be Informed
The right to be informed means the public has a right to be presented with specific and honest information on labels and in advertising. Businesses are not allowed to give consumers inaccurate or misleading information to boost sales.
To Be Heard
While no government agency handles consumer feedback, the right to be heard says consumers have the right to speak out about businesses' products, services and policies. This is implemented and achieved through private regulatory agencies such as the Better Business Bureau, or BBB. Such agencies enable consumers to report businesses that act unfairly or unethically, which is information that can help other consumers.
The right to education delineates the right to access educational or informational material or programs that allow consumers to make the best choices when purchasing and receiving goods and services. The United Nations added this right to the original Consumer Bill of Rights.
The right to service was also added by the United Nations. This right embodies the idea many of us think of as "customer service": the right to be treated well and with respect. Businesses should respond to customer needs and concerns promptly and courteously. In addition, it means potential consumers should be treated with the same respect: even if the customer does not make a purchase, the purveyor of goods or services should still treat him well.