The Law and Consumers
THE LAW AND CONSUMERS
Comment on the statements below.
1) The customer is always right.
2) Consumers who are disabled must have equal access to goods and services.
3) Publicity is a powerful weapon, and many consumers can settle problems simply by contacting, or even threatening to contact, the media
4) People should have the right to sue TV companies showing programmes that may have a harmful influence on viewers.
5) It’s not wise to believe everything you hear from the seller. It’s "puffing," or seller's talk.
6) You have to determine whether it is a bargain through careful shopping.
7) Consuming different products is not necessarily bad.
8) Many ads appeal to our emotions rather than provide the kind of factual information to make a wise buying decision.
TEXT 1. Before reading the text, think of the following and discuss your ideas with your group mates:
1) How often do you go shopping (not for food)?
2) Do you spend much money when you go shopping? What do you generally spend it on? Does your spending ever go out of control?
3) What types of stores do you prefer – small specialized shops or mega malls? Why? What are the benefits and constraints of each type?
4) What is compulsive shopping? What is recreational shopping?
Now read the text and decide whether the statements below are true or false. What will be your answer to the last question in the text? Share your opinion.
Addicted to the Mall
What do you do for recreation? Do you swim, dance, play cards, garden, or read? Many people today prefer to spend their free time shopping. These people are called recreational shoppers. Recreational shoppers do not always buy something. They really enjoy the shopping experience.
Of course, many people like going to indoor malls. However, for recreational shoppers, the mall is more than stores. For them, the mall represents happiness and fulfilment. For these people, a visit to the mall is an adventure. In fact, for many recreational shoppers the art of looking for and buying something is more fun then owning it.
Recently, a group of psychologists studied recreational shopping. First, they used tests to identify recreational shoppers. Then they compared recreational shoppers with ordinary shoppers. The psychologists discovered that the two groups were different. Recreational shoppers were usually younger, less self-confident and more often female. In addition, they were more interested in material things and had less self-control.
The recreational shoppers also went shopping when they felt worried, angry, or depressed. Ordinary shoppers didn’t. Most of the recreational shoppers said buying something helped them feel better – it made them happy. Their negative feelings went away. Many recreational shoppers also did something unusual while they were shopping. They pretended that they were different people with different lives.
Of, course shopping is an important part of our contemporary consumer society. We spend as lot of time in malls. In a recent study, people spent most of their time at home, at work, and in school. Shopping malls ranked fourth. However, in the future, will we think of recreational shopping as an addiction like smoking or drinking?
1) All people who shop are recreational shoppers.
2) Recreational shoppers go shopping for fun.
3) Recreational shoppers love to own things.
4) Most shoppers dislike shopping.
5) Psychologists compared ordinary shoppers and recreational shoppers.
6) Recreational shoppers go shopping when they are said.
7) Most recreational shoppers are men.
8) People spend more time in shopping malls that they do at work.
Task 1. Read the passage below and discuss what kinds of experiences are more important – consuming or nonconsuming. Give you reasons. To what extent do your support the author’s point of view that we should consume less? Why, why not?
How much time do you use up spending money in movies, theatres, at amusement parks, at shopping malls, at the gas pump, or at your desk paying bills? When you add it all up, you will probably see that you spend a lot of your life consuming stuff.
On your deathbeds, it is likely that nonconsuming experiences like these will be our most important memories. Why? Nonconsuming activities are active, not passive. They don’t come in a package. You make the experience yourself. For example, each person who reads to a child will have a different experience. The experience changes with the reader, the child, and the book. However, if you watch a movie with a friend, you will each have a packaged experience. It requires no action and little interaction between the two of you. When you take a walk and have a conversation with a child, however, you are actively creating an experience. The conversation that you have with your friend cannot be experienced or recreated by anyone else..
The consumerist environment we live in encourages us to have packaged experiences. We feel that we must consume because we believe that buying is doing. When we say to our friends “Hey, let’s do something”, we usually mean “let’s spend money”. However, we can start a personal revolution against consumerism. How? By consuming less. We can ask ourselves what experiences bring us the greatest satisfaction? We can organize our lives so that we have more of those kinds of experiences. It’s our choice.
TEXT 2. Read the text and answer the following questions:
1) What is consumer law?
2) Why is consumer law mostly concerned with the rights of private individuals?
3) Is consumer rights a new concept? Why not?
4) What is meant by the expression caveat emptor?
5) What laws are relevant to consumer matters?
6) Why is a lot of consumer law considered to be basic contact law?
The Law and Consumers
Consumer protection law or consumer law is considered an area of public law that regulates relationships between individual consumers and the businesses that sell goods and services. Consumer protection covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation and other consumer/business interactions. Such laws deal with crediting, pricing, personal loans, product safety, service contracts and much more.
Consumer law is mostly concerned with the rights of private individuals. Consumers, by definition, include us all. They are the largest group in the economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Two-thirds of all spending in the economy comes from consumers. But they are the only important group in the economy who are not effectively organized, whose vies are often not heard.
Consumer rights are not a new concept. Pre-industrial societies throughout the world have imposed punishments on traders who overcharge or otherwise deceive their customers, even if they make honest mistakes. Bakers in Medieval England were so worried about the laws against selling underweight bread that they developed the custom of adding an extra roll free to a batch of twelve. Even today the expression "a baker's dozen" means thirteen of something, not twelve.
For many years, consumer law was characterized by the legal expression caveat emptor, which means "let the buyer beware". In other words, consumers had to look out for unfair and misleading sales practices before buying or otherwise be prepared to suffer the consequences. Once consumers bought something, they were stuck with the purchase, even if they got less than they bargained for.
In the last thirty years, consumer law has grown at an unprecedented rate and is often studied as a branch of law in its own right. The principles of contract and tort laws are particularly relevant to consumer matters, but in addition to these, new legislation is passed every year to clarify the law and deal with specific problems. For example, consumers now have a right to be correctly informed, and sellers must avoid sales and advertising practices that mislead, deceive, or are unfair to consumers.
A lot of consumer law is basic contract law. The consumer must show that he had a contract with the supplier of goods or services, show that the supplier is in breach of this agreement, and convince the supplier that he would have a good chance of winning if he took the case to court. Contracts between businesses are usually full of detailed agreements about who should supply what, when, where and at what price, but everyday transactions involving private individuals are more informal.
TEXT 3. Read the text and differentiate between implied terns, intermediate stipulations and exemption clauses. Give your own examples of exemption clauses.
Implied Terms in Consumer Agreements
Very little is written down or even spoken, and the consumer must show that a contract has been implied by law. To help him there are consumer laws implying certain terms into consumer agreements.
One of such implied terms is a term that the seller has a right to sell. This protects the honest buyer from a seller who had no right to sell goods because they had been stolen. Another implied term is that goods correspond to any description given to the buyer. Another is that they be of "merchantable quality" — but this only applies if the seller is in business. When buying from a private seller the buyer may have to rely on express terms about quality. Similar terms are implied regarding services. It is also implied that services be provided with reasonable care at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable time.
Where goods are concerned, the implied terms are conditions. This means that the buyer has the right to discharge the contract — to refuse the goods — if the terms are breached. He may also be entitled to damages. But where services are concerned, the implied terms are intermediate stipulations. This means that the consumer may only refuse the services if this is reasonable in the circumstances. The court may decide that he must accept work which has been done, but award him damages where the work has been done badly or too slowly or at too high a cost.
A difficult problem in consumer law is deciding who is responsible when goods are lost in delivery or delivered late. In general, the buyer has no responsibility until the time he takes possession of the goods. If goods arrive late he may be able to discharge the contract (refuse delivery) if he can show that time was of the essence (of vital importance). Sometimes this is implied by the nature of the transaction — for example, a contract to deliver fresh food or newspapers. In other cases, the consumer may make time of the essence by specifying a time for delivery.
Another difficult problem is that of exemption clauses. These are warnings to the consumer by the supplier that no responsibility will be accepted in the case of loss, damage or injury. For example, dry-cleaning businesses often have notices on a wall or on the back of tickets refusing responsibility for damage to clothes. Parking lots have sign saying that customers park at their own risk. Sports clubs warn that they are not liable if members injure themselves using their equipment. The law about exemption clauses varies from country to country, but in general it is important for the consumer to know that not all such clauses are valid. In Britain and the United States, for example, a party trying to avoid responsibility must show that the exemption clause was part of the contract with the customer and that it covered the problem in question.
The clause is more likely to be part of the contract if it is in a document signed by the customer or was written in a place all customers could read it.
Task 2. Read the case below and in groups discuss the following questions:
1) What remedies could the office of consumer affairs ask for?
2) What steps could the Cole family have taken initially to avoid this problem?
The Cheap Vacation Home
David and Mary Cole were reading the newspaper after dinner one night when the telephone rang. A pleasant-sounding person on the other end of the line told that people in their community had a chance to purchase new vacation homes for only $ 15,000. The homes were located in a beautiful wooded setting just two hours by car from where the Cole family lived. In order to take advantage of this very low price, the seller said, the Coles had to make a 20% down payment. The rest of the money could be paid over the next 10 years with no interest at all.
The Coles had been thinking about buying a little place away from the city for brief weekend escapes, and this deal seemed too good to be true. They gave the seller their credit card number for the down payment. The seller promised to send literature about the dream home. Unfortunately, the literature never arrived. When the Coles complained to their state’s office of consumer affairs, they found that others in their community had been tricked too. Fortunately, a thorough investigation enabled authorities to locate the persons responsible for this fraudulent sales scheme.
TEXT 4. Read texts 4 and 5 and be ready to speak on the history of consumer rights protection and the main rights of consumers.
From the History of Modern Consumer Law
Before the mid-twentieth century, consumers were without rights with regard to their interaction with products and commercial producers. Consumers had little ground on which to defend themselves against faulty or defective products, or against misleading or deceptive advertising methods.
By the 1950s, a movement called consumerism began to gather followers pushing for increased rights and legal protection against malicious business practices. By the end of the decade, legal product liability had been established in which an aggrieved party needed only prove injury by use of a product.
In 1962, 15 March, President John F. Kennedy presented a speech to the US Congress in which he named four basic consumer rights, later called the Consumer Bill of Rights. All world has been observing 15 March since 1989 as the International Consumers’ Day.
During his speech, President John F. Kennedy remarked: “If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are too high, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informal basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.”
John F. Kennedy had equated the rights of the ordinary American consumer with national interest and gave the American consumer four basic rights:
- the right to safety – to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to health or life;
- the right to choose – to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices; and in those industries where competition is not workable and government regulation is substituted, an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices;
- the right to information – to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful or misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given the facts she/he needs to make an informed choice;
- the right to be heard – to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.
Thirteen years later President Gerald Ford felt that the four rights constituted in Kennedy’s Bill of Rights were inadequate for a situation where most consumers are not educated enough to make the right choices. So he added the Right to Consumer Education, as an informed consumer cannot be exploited easily.
While these rights served the interest of the American consumer well enough, they did not cover the whole range, because a global consumer did need, apart from them, other well-defined rights like basic needs, a healthy environment and redress.
The Consumers International (CI), founded in 1960, including 240 organizations in over 100 countries, expanded the charter of consumers rights contained in the US Bill to eight, which in a logical order reads:
1) Basic Needs
7) Consumer Education
8) Healthy Environment
This charter had a universal significance as it symbolized the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged. On this basis, the United Nations, in April 1985, adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
In their role as consumers, ordinary citizens are entitled to the fundamental rights, which lie at the heart of national policies.