2 minute read

Consumer Protection


Consumer protection and product safety include the efforts made by government, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals to create, protect, and enforce the rights of consumers who buy products or services. While the idea of consumer protection is not new--there have been laws regarding uniform weights and measures since the fledging days of the United States--interest in consumer rights legislation has flourished in tandem with society's technological and economical advances. For instance, the mass commercialization of products during the industrial revolution spawned laws in the late 1890s and early 1900s regarding food purity. And the rise in consumer credit as well as product safety awareness, spurred much consumer protection legislation during the 1960s and 1970s.

The passage of the pure food and drug legislation, in 1906, came in response to efforts led by crusaders who were concerned about unsanitary conditions and high prices. One such crusader was Upton Sinclair, author of the novel The Jungle. Sinclair was considered a muckraker because his book depicted the harsh and filthy environment inside the Chicago stockyards. Public reaction to Sinclair's exposition led to an investigation by the federal government and subsequent meat-inspection legislation.

In 1938 Congress added to the 1906 legislation by enacting the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which required manufacturers to prove the safety of new drugs before being allowed to put them on the market. The Food and Drug Adminsitration (FDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for administering the pure food and drugs acts. These acts were created to ensure that food, drugs, vaccines, devices, and cosmetics are safe, properly labelled, and pure. Over the years, the acts have been strengthened with additional amendments, such as a 1962 requirement that manufacturers prove the effectiveness, as well as the safety, of drugs before they are marketed to consumers.

In a 1962 message to the Congress, President John F. Kennedy outlined the basic tenents of consumer rights, which he described as: the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, and the right to be heard. These principles form the foundation for the consumer-rights movement. President Lyndon B. Johnson advanced consumer rights in 1964 by creating the post of Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs, and in 1967 formed the Consumer Federation of America, which served as the national organization of consumer, cooperative, and labor groups.

At the forefront of the consumer-rights movement since the 1960s has been Ralph Nader, a lawyer and consumer advocate. Nader's 1965 muckraking book, Unsafe at Any Speed, exposed questionable manufacturing and design practices of automobile manufacturers. The book spurred the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. Nader has organized a network of young people, called Nader's Raiders, who conduct researching, writing, and lobbying efforts in a variety of areas related to consumer protection.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesConsumer Protection - History, The Uniform Commercial Code, Product Safety, Truthful Advertising