Economic and Social Council
2nd plenary meeting
26 July 1999
1999.7 - Expansion of the United Nations guidelines on
consumer protection to include sustainable consumption
The Economic and Social Council,
Recalling General Assembly resolution 39/248 of 9 April 1985, in
which the Assembly adopted the guidelines for consumer protection,
Noting that the Commission on Sustainable Development, at its
third session, recommended that the guidelines for consumer protection be expanded to
include guidelines for sustainable consumption,1
Recalling Economic and Social Council resolutions 1995/53 of 28
July 1995 and 1997/53 of 23 July 1997, in which the Council requested the
Secretary-General, inter alia, to elaborate guidelines in the area of sustainable
Taking note of the report of the Secretary-General2
and the recommendations of the Interregional Expert Group Meeting on Consumer Protection
and Sustainable Consumption, held at São Paulo, Brazil, from 28 to 30 January 1998,3
Noting with appreciation the organization by the Bureau of the
seventh session of the Commission on Sustainable Development of open-ended consultations
among member States, as requested by the Council in its decision 1998/215 of 23 July 1998,
Aware that the need remains great for assistance in the area of
consumer protection, particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in
Recognizing the impact that the guidelines have had in many
countries in promoting just, equitable and sustainable economic and social development
through their implementation by Governments,
Also recognizing the important role of civil society, in
particular of non-governmental organizations, in promoting the implementation of the
1. Decides to transmit to the General Assembly, for consideration
with a view to their adoption, the draft guidelines for consumer protection expanded to
include sustainable consumption, as contained in the annex;
2. Urges Member States, other entities of the United Nations
system and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to continue their
efforts to implement effectively the United Nations guidelines for consumer protection.
United Nations guidelines for consumer protection
(As expanded in 1999)
1. Taking into account the interests and needs of consumers in all
countries, particularly those in developing countries; recognizing that consumers often
face imbalances in economic terms, educational levels, and bargaining power; and bearing
in mind that consumers should have the right of access to non-hazardous products, as well
as the right to promote just, equitable and sustainable economic and social development
and environmental protection, these guidelines for consumer protection have the following
(a) To assist countries in achieving or maintaining adequate protection
for their population as consumers;
(b) To facilitate production and distribution patterns responsive to the
needs and desires of consumers;
(c) To encourage high levels of ethical conduct for those engaged in the
production and distribution of goods and services to consumers;
(d) To assist countries in curbing abusive business practices by all
enterprises at the national and international levels which adversely affect consumers;
(e) To facilitate the development of independent consumer groups;
(f) To further international cooperation in the field of consumer
(g) To encourage the development of market conditions which provide
consumers with greater choice at lower prices;
(h) To promote sustainable consumption.
II. General principles
2. Governments should develop or maintain a strong consumer protection
policy, taking into account the Guidelines set out below and relevant international
agreements. In so doing, each Government should set its own priorities for the protection
of consumers in accordance with the economic, social and environmental circumstances of
the country and the needs of its population, bearing in mind the costs and benefits of
3. The legitimate needs which the guidelines are intended to meet are
(a) The protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety;
(b) The promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers;
(c) Access of consumers to adequate information to enable them to make
informed choices according to individual wishes and needs;
(d) Consumer education, including education on the environmental, social
and economic impacts of consumer choice;
(e) Availability of effective consumer redress;
(f) Freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups or organizations
and the opportunity of such organizations to present their views in decision-making
processes affecting them;
(g) The promotion of sustainable consumption patterns.
4. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, particularly in
industrialized countries, are the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global
environment. All countries should strive to promote sustainable consumption patterns;
developed countries should take the lead in achieving sustainable consumption patterns;
developing countries should seek to achieve sustainable consumption patterns in their
development process, having due regard to the principle of common but differentiated
responsibilities. The special situation and needs of developing countries in this regard
should be fully taken into account.
5. Policies for promoting sustainable consumption should take into
account the goals of eradicating poverty, satisfying the basic human needs of all members
of society, and reducing inequality within and between countries.
6. Governments should provide or maintain adequate infrastructure to
develop, implement and monitor consumer protection policies. Special care should be taken
to ensure that measures for consumer protection are implemented for the benefit of all
sectors of the population, particularly the rural population and people living in poverty.
7. All enterprises should obey the relevant laws and regulations of the
countries in which they do business. They should also conform to the appropriate
provisions of international standards for consumer protection to which the competent
authorities of the country in question have agreed. (Hereinafter references to
international standards in the guidelines should be viewed in the context of this
8. The potential positive role of universities and public and private
enterprises in research should be considered when developing consumer protection policies.
9. The following guidelines should apply both to home-produced goods and
services and to imports.
10. In applying any procedures or regulations for consumer protection,
due regard should be given to ensuring that they do not become barriers to international
trade and that they are consistent with international trade obligations.
A. Physical safety
11. Governments should adopt or encourage the adoption of appropriate
measures, including legal systems, safety regulations, national or international
standards, voluntary standards and the maintenance of safety records to ensure that
products are safe for either intended or normally foreseeable use.
12. Appropriate policies should ensure that goods produced by
manufacturers are safe for either intended or normally foreseeable use. Those responsible
for bringing goods to the market, in particular suppliers, exporters, importers, retailers
and the like (hereinafter referred to as "distributors"), should ensure that
while in their care these goods are not rendered unsafe through improper handling or
storage and that while in their care they do not become hazardous through improper
handling or storage. Consumers should be instructed in the proper use of goods and should
be informed of the risks involved in intended or normally foreseeable use. Vital safety
information should be conveyed to consumers by internationally understandable symbols
13. Appropriate policies should ensure that if manufacturers or
distributors become aware of unforeseen hazards after products are placed on the market,
they should notify the relevant authorities and, as appropriate, the public without delay.
Governments should also consider ways of ensuring that consumers are properly informed of
14. Governments should, where appropriate, adopt policies under which,
if a product is found to be seriously defective and/or to constitute a substantial and
severe hazard even when properly used, manufacturers and/or distributors should recall it
and replace or modify it, or substitute another product for it; if it is not possible to
do this within a reasonable period of time, the consumer should be adequately compensated.
B. Promotion and protection of consumers economic interests
15. Government policies should seek to enable consumers to obtain
optimum benefit from their economic resources. They should also seek to achieve the goals
of satisfactory production and performance standards, adequate distribution methods, fair
business practices, informative marketing and effective protection against practices which
could adversely affect the economic interests of consumers and the exercise of choice in
the market place.
16. Governments should intensify their efforts to prevent practices
which are damaging to the economic interests of consumers through ensuring that
manufacturers, distributors and others involved in the provision of goods and services
adhere to established laws and mandatory standards. Consumer organizations should be
encouraged to monitor adverse practices, such as the adulteration of foods, false or
misleading claims in marketing and service frauds.
17. Governments should develop, strengthen or maintain, as the case may
be, measures relating to the control of restrictive and other abusive business practices
which may be harmful to consumers, including means for the enforcement of such measures.
In this connection, Governments should be guided by their commitment to the Set of
Multilaterally Agreed Equitable Principles and Rules for the Control of Restrictive
Business Practices adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 35/63 of 5 December 1980.
18. Governments should adopt or maintain policies that make clear the
responsibility of the producer to ensure that goods meet reasonable demands of durability,
utility and reliability, and are suited to the purpose for which they are intended, and
that the seller should see that these requirements are met. Similar policies should apply
to the provision of services.
19. Governments should encourage fair and effective competition in order
to provide consumers with the greatest range of choice among products and services at the
20. Governments should, where appropriate, see to it that manufacturers
and/or retailers ensure adequate availability of reliable after-sales service and spare
21. Consumers should be protected from such contractual abuses as
one-sided standard contracts, exclusion of essential rights in contracts, and
unconscionable conditions of credit by sellers.
22. Promotional marketing and sales practices should be guided by the
principle of fair treatment of consumers and should meet legal requirements. This requires
the provision of the information necessary to enable consumers to take informed and
independent decisions, as well as measures to ensure that the information provided is
23. Governments should encourage all concerned to participate in the
free flow of accurate information on all aspects of consumer products.
24. Consumer access to accurate information about the environmental
impact of products and services should be encouraged through such means as product
profiles, environmental reports by industry, information centres for consumers, voluntary
and transparent eco-labelling programmes and product information hotlines.
25. Governments, in close collaboration with manufacturers, distributors
and consumer organizations, should take measures regarding misleading environmental claims
or information in advertising and other marketing activities. The development of
appropriate advertising codes and standards for the regulation and verification of
environmental claims should be encouraged.
26. Governments should, within their own national context, encourage the
formulation and implementation by business, in cooperation with consumer organizations, of
codes of marketing and other business practices to ensure adequate consumer protection.
Voluntary agreements may also be established jointly by business, consumer organizations
and other interested parties. These codes should receive adequate publicity.
27. Governments should regularly review legislation pertaining to
weights and measures and assess the adequacy of the machinery for its enforcement.
C. Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and
28. Governments should, as appropriate, formulate or promote the
elaboration and implementation of standards, voluntary and other, at the national and
international levels for the safety and quality of goods and services and give them
appropriate publicity. National standards and regulations for product safety and quality
should be reviewed from time to time, in order to ensure that they conform, where
possible, to generally accepted international standards.
29. Where a standard lower than the generally accepted international
standard is being applied because of local economic conditions, every effort should be
made to raise that standard as soon as possible.
30. Governments should encourage and ensure the availability of
facilities to test and certify the safety, quality and performance of essential consumer
goods and services.
D. Distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services
31. Governments should, where appropriate, consider:
(a) Adopting or maintaining policies to ensure the efficient
distribution of goods and services to consumers; where appropriate, specific policies
should be considered to ensure the distribution of essential goods and services where this
distribution is endangered, as could be the case particularly in rural areas. Such
policies could include assistance for the creation of adequate storage and retail
facilities in rural centres, incentives for consumer self-help and better control of the
conditions under which essential goods and services are provided in rural areas;
(b) Encouraging the establishment of consumer cooperatives and related
trading activities, as well as information about them, especially in rural areas.
E. Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress
32. Governments should establish or maintain legal and/or administrative
measures to enable consumers or, as appropriate, relevant organizations to obtain redress
through formal or informal procedures that are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and
accessible. Such procedures should take particular account of the needs of low-income
33. Governments should encourage all enterprises to resolve consumer
disputes in a fair, expeditious and informal manner, and to establish voluntary
mechanisms, including advisory services and informal complaints procedures, which can
provide assistance to consumers.
34. Information on available redress and other dispute-resolving
procedures should be made available to consumers.
F. Education and information programmes
35. Governments should develop or encourage the development of general
consumer education and information programmes, including information on the environmental
impacts of consumer choices and behaviour and the possible implications, including
benefits and costs, of changes in consumption, bearing in mind the cultural traditions of
the people concerned. The aim of such programmes should be to enable people to act as
discriminating consumers, capable of making an informed choice of goods and services, and
conscious of their rights and responsibilities. In developing such programmes, special
attention should be given to the needs of disadvantaged consumers, in both rural and urban
areas, including low-income consumers and those with low or non-existent literacy levels.
Consumer groups, business and other relevant organizations of civil society should be
involved in these educational efforts.
36. Consumer education should, where appropriate, become an integral
part of the basic curriculum of the educational system, preferably as a component of
37. Consumer education and information programmes should cover such
important aspects of consumer protection as the following:
(a) Health, nutrition, prevention of food-borne diseases and food
(b) Product hazards;
(c) Product labelling;
(d) Relevant legislation, how to obtain redress, and agencies and
organizations for consumer protection;
(e) Information on weights and measures, prices, quality, credit
conditions and availability of basic necessities;
(f) Environmental protection; and
(g) Efficient use of materials, energy and water.
38. Governments should encourage consumer organizations and other
interested groups, including the media, to undertake education and information programmes,
including on the environmental impacts of consumption patterns and on the possible
implications, including benefits and costs, of changes in consumption, particularly for
the benefit of low-income consumer groups in rural and urban areas.
39. Business should, where appropriate, undertake or participate in
factual and relevant consumer education and information programmes.
40. Bearing in mind the need to reach rural consumers and illiterate
consumers, Governments should, as appropriate, develop or encourage the development of
consumer information programmes in the mass media.
41. Governments should organize or encourage training programmes for
educators, mass media professionals and consumer advisers, to enable them to participate
in carrying out consumer information and education programmes.
G. Promotion of sustainable consumption
42. Sustainable consumption includes meeting the needs of present and
future generations for goods and services in ways that are economically, socially and
43. Responsibility for sustainable consumption is shared by all members
and organizations of society, with informed consumers, Government, business, labour
organizations, and consumer and environmental organizations playing particularly important
roles. Informed consumers have an essential role in promoting consumption that is
environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, including through the effects of
their choices on producers. Governments should promote the development and implementation
of policies for sustainable consumption and the integration of those policies with other
public policies. Government policy making should be conducted in consultation with
business, consumer and environmental organizations, and other concerned groups. Business
has a responsibility for promoting sustainable consumption through the design, production
and distribution of goods and services. Consumer and environmental organizations have a
responsibility for promoting public participation and debate on sustainable consumption,
for informing consumers, and for working with Government and business towards sustainable
44. Governments, in partnership with business and relevant organizations
of civil society, should develop and implement strategies that promote sustainable
consumption through a mix of policies that could include regulations; economic and social
instruments; sectoral policies in such areas as land use, transport, energy and housing;
information programmes to raise awareness of the impact of consumption patterns; removal
of subsidies that promote unsustainable patterns of consumption and production; and
promotion of sector-specific environmental-management best practices.
45. Governments should encourage the design, development and use of
products and services that are safe and energy and resource efficient, considering their
full life-cycle impacts. Governments should encourage recycling programmes that encourage
consumers to both recycle wastes and purchase recycled products.
46. Governments should promote the development and use of national and
international environmental health and safety standards for products and services; such
standards should not result in disguised barriers to trade.
47. Governments should encourage impartial environmental testing of
48. Governments should safely manage environmentally harmful uses of
substances and encourage the development of environmentally sound alternatives for such
uses. New potentially hazardous substances should be evaluated on a scientific basis for
their long-term environmental impact prior to distribution.
49. Governments should promote awareness of the health-related benefits
of sustainable consumption and production patterns, bearing in mind both direct effects on
individual health and collective effects through environmental protection.
50. Governments, in partnership with the private sector and other
relevant organizations, should encourage the transformation of unsustainable consumption
patterns through the development and use of new environmentally sound products and
services and new technologies, including information and communication technologies, that
can meet consumer needs while reducing pollution and depletion of natural resources.
51. Governments are encouraged to create or strengthen effective
regulatory mechanisms for the protection of consumers, including aspects of sustainable
52. Governments should consider a range of economic instruments, such as
fiscal instruments and internalization of environmental costs, to promote sustainable
consumption, taking into account social needs, the need for disincentives for
unsustainable practices and incentives for more sustainable practices, while avoiding
potential negative effects for market access, in particular for developing countries.
53. Governments, in cooperation with business and other relevant groups,
should develop indicators, methodologies and databases for measuring progress towards
sustainable consumption at all levels. This information should be publicly available.
54. Governments and international agencies should take the lead in
introducing sustainable practices in their own operations, in particular through their
procurement policies. Government procurement, as appropriate, should encourage development
and use of environmentally sound products and services.
55. Governments and other relevant organizations should promote research
on consumer behaviour related to environmental damage in order to identify ways to make
consumption patterns more sustainable.
H. Measures relating to specific areas
56. In advancing consumer interests, particularly in developing
countries, Governments should, where appropriate, give priority to areas of essential
concern for the health of the consumer, such as food, water and pharmaceuticals. Policies
should be adopted or maintained for product quality control, adequate and secure
distribution facilities, standardized international labelling and information, as well as
education and research programmes in these areas. Government guidelines in regard to
specific areas should be developed in the context of the provisions of this document.
57. Food. When formulating national policies and plans with
regard to food, Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food
security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization Codex
Alimentarius or, in their absence, other generally accepted international food standards.
Governments should maintain, develop or improve food safety measures, including, inter
alia, safety criteria, food standards and dietary requirements and effective
monitoring, inspection and evaluation mechanisms.
58. Governments should promote sustainable agricultural policies and
practices, conservation of biodiversity, and protection of soil and water, taking into
account traditional knowledge.
59. Water. Governments should, within the goals and targets set
for the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, formulate, maintain or
strengthen national policies to improve the supply, distribution and quality of water for
drinking. Due regard should be paid to the choice of appropriate levels of service,
quality and technology, the need for education programmes and the importance of community
60. Governments should assign high priority to the formulation and
implementation of policies and programmes concerning the multiple uses of water, taking
into account the importance of water for sustainable development in general and its finite
character as a resource.
61. Pharmaceuticals. Governments should develop or maintain
adequate standards, provisions and appropriate regulatory systems for ensuring the quality
and appropriate use of pharmaceuticals through integrated national drug policies which
could address, inter alia, procurement, distribution, production, licensing
arrangements, registration systems and the availability of reliable information on
pharmaceuticals. In so doing, Governments should take special account of the work and
recommendations of the World Health Organization on pharmaceuticals. For relevant
products, the use of that organizations Certification Scheme on the Quality of
Pharmaceutical Products Moving in International Commerce and other international
information systems on pharmaceuticals should be encouraged. Measures should also be
taken, as appropriate, to promote the use of international non-proprietary names (INNs)
for drugs, drawing on the work done by the World Health Organization.
62. In addition to the priority areas indicated above, Governments
should adopt appropriate measures in other areas, such as pesticides and chemicals in
regard, where relevant, to their use, production and storage, taking into account such
relevant health and environmental information as Governments may require producers to
provide and include in the labelling of products.
IV. International cooperation
63. Governments should, especially in a regional or subregional context:
(a) Develop, review, maintain or strengthen, as appropriate, mechanisms
for the exchange of information on national policies and measures in the field of consumer
(b) Cooperate or encourage cooperation in the implementation of consumer
protection policies to achieve greater results within existing resources. Examples of such
cooperation could be collaboration in the setting up or joint use of testing facilities,
common testing procedures, exchange of consumer information and education programmes,
joint training programmes and joint elaboration of regulations;
(c) Cooperate to improve the conditions under which essential goods are
offered to consumers, giving due regard to both price and quality. Such cooperation could
include joint procurement of essential goods, exchange of information on different
procurement possibilities and agreements on regional product specifications.
64. Governments should develop or strengthen information links regarding
products which have been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted in order to enable other
importing countries to protect themselves adequately against the harmful effects of such
65. Governments should work to ensure that the quality of products, and
information relating to such products, does not vary from country to country in a way that
would have detrimental effects on consumers.
66. To promote sustainable consumption, Governments, international
bodies and business should work together to develop, transfer and disseminate
environmentally sound technologies, including through appropriate financial support from
developed countries, and to devise new and innovative mechanisms for financing their
transfer among all countries, in particular to and among developing countries and
countries with economies in transition.
67. Governments and international organizations, as appropriate, should
promote and facilitate capacity building in the area of sustainable consumption,
particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. In
particular, Governments should also facilitate cooperation among consumer groups and other
relevant organizations of civil society, with the aim of strengthening capacity in this
68. Governments and international bodies, as appropriate, should promote
programmes relating to consumer education and information.
69. Governments should work to ensure that policies and measures for
consumer protection are implemented with due regard to their not becoming barriers to
international trade, and that they are consistent with international trade obligations.
1.Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, 1995, Supplement
No. 12 (E/1995/32), chap. I, para. 45, sect. E.
3. See E/CN.17/1998/5, annex.
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