Governments are failing to protect consumers in a changing world

A survey of consumer protection legislation conducted by Consumers International (CI) in 58 countries has revealed a concerning lack of government attention around some of today’s most pressing consumer rights issues.

CI has published the survey results ahead of World Consumer Rights Day, 15 March,(1) and as part of the consumer movement’s demands for the revision of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection.(2)

Helen McCallum, Director General of CI said: “This global consumer protection survey is a unique piece of work. It is the first ever comprehensive attempt to highlight the gaps in consumer protection around the world, and should be crucial reading for anyone concerned about consumer legislation and the state of consumer rights.”

The results of the survey, which were collected by 70 of CI’s national member organisations, revealed that barely half (52%) of the countries surveyed have a national policy to protect consumers.

Even where specific legislation does exist, it by no means guarantees consumer justice. For instance, while 91% of governments fine companies that violate consumer laws, only 55% order financial compensation to consumers.

The survey also indicates a lack of government action on contemporary consumer concerns, such as e-commerce, environmental impact and corporate behaviour:

  • Less than a third of governments (29%) have mechanisms in place to resolve e-commerce disputes out of court; meaning victims of online shopping malpractice may be forced to seek redress through expensive court settlements.
  • Barely half (52%) require companies to disclose energy consumption of home appliances; leaving consumers unaware of the environmental impact of the goods they buy.
  • Less than half (47%) use incentive measures – such as tax breaks, exemptions, and labelling schemes – to encourage consumer goods companies to be ethical and socially responsible.

The study also indicated a lack of commitment to consumer education, with only 38% indicating its inclusion within national school curricula and only two in five governments monitoring awareness of consumer rights within their borders. This comes despite consumer education and awareness being cited by many governments as a major tenet of effective consumer protection.

Helen McCallum: “This survey paints the picture of a job half done. While progress has been made in many areas, there is still an unacceptable lack of consumer protection in others – both in the developed and developing world.

“It shows that modern consumer concerns – such as digital rights, environmental impact, and corporate responsibility – are not being adequately addressed by governments. To address this, we want to see better laws, effective policy and tougher enforcement, alongside an update to the UN Guidelines of Consumer Protection so that they truly reflect the legitimate needs of consumers across the world”.

The State of Consumer Protection Around the World asked consumer groups in 58 countries to assess government policy on consumer justice and protection. The full survey, infographic, summary and opendata sheets can be download here:

For more information on Consumers International, visit


(1) World Consumer Rights Day on 15 March is an international day of action and awareness, observed by consumer organisations around the world. This year’s theme is ‘Consumer Justice Now!

15 March marks the day in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy told the US Congress: ‘Consumers by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group… whose views are often not heard.’ President Kennedy was the first political leader to publicly outline the principles of consumer rights.

(2) The UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection are being revised under the direction of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Consumers International is recognised by UNCTAD as a named stakeholder in the revision of the guidelines and are consulting with all our member organisations over the next year to get their input. The revision is scheduled for completion in June 2014.