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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines right as “a just claim” to something, such as a power or a privilege. In other words, it means you are entitled to something. When it comes to products and services, all consumers have rights. These rights are protected by regulations to keep consumers safe from harm or fraud.

President John F. Kennedy introduced the “Consumer Bill of Rights” in 1962. Every consumer has four fundamental rights: the right to safety, the right to choose, the right to be heard, and the right to be informed. Four additional rights were later added: the right to redress, the right to consumer education, the right to service, and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Consumer Bill of Rights

Here is a list of the Consumer Bill of Rights and their definitions.

  1. The right to safety refers to the right to be protected from the marketing and sale of products hazardous to human life and property. Consumers expect purchased items to be safe when used correctly or as directed.
  2. The right to choose is a consumer’s right to have access to a variety of products and services at fair and competitive prices. In cases where there is a lack of competition, consumers still have a right to quality products and services at fair prices.
  3. The right to be heard is the right to have interests and complaints heard and considered. Consumers have the right to let businesses know if they are unhappy with products and services. These complaints are usually made in customer service departments. This right also ensures consumers that government officials will consider consumer concerns and issues when making public policies.
  4. The right to be informed means that consumers are to be provided with adequate, reliable, and sufficient information about products or services to make informed decisions. Businesses are required by law to provide certain information to consumers regarding their products and services. The purpose of this right is to protect consumers from false and misleading claims or information in advertising, labeling, or marketing practices.
  5. The right to redress is the right to have problems resolved. It refers to the right to seek justice against exploitation or unfair practices. Consumers have the right to return a defective item or complain about poor service. They also have a right to get their money back, to have the product replaced or a do-over of the service provided, or to have the product repaired. It is a consumer’s right to seek a fair resolution to grievances. If a business does not correct the problem, contact the manufacturer. If they do not correct the problem, contact a government agency, such as the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, or consumer protection offices, including the Alabama Securities Commission or the Alabama Department of Insurance.
  6. The right to consumer education refers to having access to education that will provide the knowledge and skills needed to make informed consumer decisions. For example, consumers have the right to use the information provided on labels to compare prices and quality.
  7. The right to service is the right to be treated in a respectful and courteous manner. Consumers have the right to expect prompt and non-discriminatory service.
  8. The right to a healthy and sustainable environment is the right to live in a non-threatening, safe, and healthy environment that promotes the well-being of present and future generations. Consumers have the right to live and work in an environment protected from pollution (air, water, land, noise, etc.).

Government and non-governmental organizations have made significant progress in protecting consumers by developing laws that give consumers specific rights. As with any right, however, it isn’t worth much if it is not desired, exercised, and protected.

Consumer Responsibilities

While consumers have rights, they also have responsibilities as follows:

Right to Safety

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Read and follow product labels (warnings, ingredients, side effects, etc.) and instructions carefully.
  • Investigate an item’s quality and safety standards before purchasing.
  • Respond to recalls.
  • Use the product as intended.
  • Report defective items.

Right to Choose

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Recognize deceptive and unfair selling practices.
  • Practice comparison shopping.
  • Be honest with sellers.
  • Don’t blindly trust the words of the seller.
  • Refuse to pay for a product or service that is substandard.

Right to be Heard

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Let your voice be heard (speak up) about issues affecting consumers.
  • Let businesses know when you are not satisfied (report defective goods and services).
  • Report unsafe and illegal business practices.
  • Assert your right but do not abuse your right.

Right to be Informed

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Seek out accurate information about products and services.
  • Read advertisement materials carefully.
  • Use available information.
  • Ask the seller questions when written information is inadequate.

Right to Redress

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Know how and where to seek redress/remedy for grievances.
  • File complaints for rectifying genuine grievances.
  • Use informal dispute mechanisms when available.
  • Give back the item, the receipt, and warranties/guarantees when seeking a refund/exchange.
  • Seek out and use third-party complaint handling procedures (e.g., consumer affairs office).
  • Use the legal system to rectify the problem, if necessary.

Right to Consumer Education

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Learn how to protect your rights.
  • Become an informed consumer.
  • Support efforts for more consumer education programs for all students.
  • Support efforts to have more consumer information for the public.
  • Attend educational events on consumer issues and problems.

Right to Service

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Expect to be treated with respect.
  • Expect and demand good and prompt service.
  • Demand service void of discrimination.

Right to a healthy and sustainable environment

It is a consumer’s responsibility to:

  • Avoid contributing to pollution.
  • Learn the environmental effects of the product used.
  • Make environmentally sound consumption choices.
  • Become informed about environmental issues.
  • Report environmental wrongdoing to appropriate authorities.
  • Support recycling efforts (e.g., drug take-back, e-waste recycling, etc.).

Remember consumer rights mean very little if consumers don’t know or exercise their rights. For example:

  • Consumers can cancel certain sales (after signing a contract) made at their home, workplace, dormitory, or a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business (e.g., hotel/motel room, convention center, restaurant, etc.) within three days (Cooling-Off Rule).
  • If refused credit or employment due to information found in your credit report, consumers are to be given a summary of that information.
  • Telemarketers are only allowed to call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
  • If a consumer purchases a new car, truck, or SUV that is defective within the first year or before reaching 12,000 miles, that consumer is entitled to a buyback or replacement (Lemon Law).

In conclusion, it is important that consumers know their rights and responsibilities. By understanding these rights and responsibilities, consumers will know when their rights have been violated and what actions to take. Knowing these rights and responsibilities can make it possible for consumers to avoid the loss of valuable resources, such as time and money.