When dealing with consumers, enterprises should act in accordance with fair business, marketing and advertising practices and should take all reasonable steps to ensure the quality and reliability of the goods and services that they provide. In particular, they should:
1. Ensure that the goods and services they provide meet all agreed or legally required standards for consumer health and safety, including those pertaining to health warnings and safety information.
2. Provide accurate, verifiable and clear information that is sufficient to enable consumers to make informed decisions, including information on the prices and, where appropriate, content, safe use, environmental attributes, maintenance, storage and disposal of goods and services. Where feasible this information should be provided in a manner that facilitates consumers’ ability to compare products.
3. Provide consumers with access to fair, easy to use, timely and effective non-judicial dispute resolution and redress mechanisms, without unnecessary cost or burden.
4. Not make representations or omissions, nor engage in any other practices, that are deceptive, misleading, fraudulent or unfair.
5. Support efforts to promote consumer education in areas that relate to their business activities, with the aim of, inter alia, improving the ability of consumers to: i) make informed decisions involving complex goods, services and markets, ii) better understand the economic, environmental and social impact of their decisions and iii) support sustainable consumption.
6. Respect consumer privacy and take reasonable measures to ensure the security of personal data that they collect, store, process or disseminate.
7. Co-operate fully with public authorities to prevent and combat deceptive marketing practices (including misleading advertising and commercial fraud) and to diminish or prevent serious threats to public health and safety or to the environment deriving from the consumption, use or disposal of their goods and services. Take into consideration, in applying the above principles, i) the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers and ii) the specific challenges that e-commerce may pose for consumers.
Commentary on Consumer Interests:
81. The chapter on consumer interests of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises draws on the work of the OECD Committee on Consumer Policy and the Committee on Financial Markets, as well as the work of other international organisations, including the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Organization for Standardization and the United Nations (i.e., the UN Guidelines on Consumer Policy, as expanded in 1999).
82. The chapter recognises that consumer satisfaction and related interests constitute a fundamental basis for the successful operation of enterprises. It also recognises that consumer markets for goods and services have undergone major transformation over time. Regulatory reform, more open global markets, the development of new technologies and the growth in consumer services have been key agents of change, providing consumers with greater choice and the other benefits which derive from more open competition. At the same time, the pace of change and increased complexity of many markets have generally made it more difficult for consumers to compare and assess goods and services. Moreover, consumer demographics have also changed over time. Children are becoming increasingly significant forces in the market, as are the growing number of older adults. While consumers are better educated overall, many still lack the arithmetic and literacy skills that are required in today’s more complex, information-intensive marketplace. Further, many consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the position and activities of enterprises on a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues, and in taking these into account when choosing goods and services.
83. The chapeau calls on enterprises to apply fair business, marketing and advertising practices and to ensure the quality and reliability of the products that they provide. These principles, it is noted, apply to both goods and services.
84. Paragraph 1 underscores the importance for enterprises to adhere to required health and safety standards and the importance for them to provide consumers with adequate health and safety information on their products.
85. Paragraph 2 concerns information disclosure. It calls for enterprises to provide information which is sufficient for consumers to make informed decisions. This would include information on the financial risks associated with products, where relevant. Furthermore, in some instances enterprises are legally required to provide information in a manner that enables consumers to make direct comparisons of goods and services (for example, unit pricing). In the absence of direct legislation, enterprises are encouraged to present information, when dealing with consumers, in a way that facilitates comparisons of goods and services and enables consumers to easily determine what the total cost of a product will be. It should be noted that what is considered to be “sufficient” can change over time and enterprises should be responsive to these changes. Any product and environmental claims that enterprises make should be based on adequate evidence and, as applicable, proper tests. Given consumers’ growing interest in environmental issues and sustainable consumption, information should be provided, as appropriate, on the environmental attributes of products. This could include information on the energy efficiency and the degree of recyclability of products and, in the case of food products, information on agricultural practices.
86. Business conduct is increasingly considered by consumers when making their purchasing decisions. Enterprises are therefore encouraged to make information available on initiatives they have taken to integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations and to otherwise support sustainable consumption. Chapter III of the Guidelines on Disclosure is relevant in this regard. Enterprises are there encouraged to communicate value statements or statements of business conduct to the public, including information on the social, ethical and environmental policies of the enterprise and other codes of conduct to which the company subscribes. Enterprises are encouraged to make this information available in plain language and in a format that is appealing to consumers. Growth in the number of enterprises reporting in these areas and targeting information to consumers would be welcome.
87. Paragraph 3 reflects language that is used in the 2007 Council Recommendation on Consumer Dispute Resolution and Redress. The Recommendation establishes a framework for developing effective approaches to address consumer complaints, including a series of actions that industry can take in this respect. It is noted that the mechanisms that many enterprises have established to resolve consumer disputes have helped increase consumer confidence and consumer satisfaction. These mechanisms can provide more practicable solutions to complaints than legal actions, which can be expensive, difficult and time consuming for all the parties involved. For these non-judicial mechanisms to be effective, however, consumers need to be made aware of their existence and would benefit from guidance on how to file complaints, especially when claims involve cross-border or multidimensional transactions.
88. Paragraph 4 concerns deceptive, misleading, fraudulent and other unfair commercial practices. Such practices can distort markets, at the expense of both consumers and responsible enterprises and should be avoided.
89. Paragraph 5 concerns consumer education, which has taken on greater importance with the growing complexity of many markets and products. Governments, consumer organisations and many enterprises have recognised that this is a shared responsibility and that they can play important roles in this regard. The difficulties that consumers have experienced in evaluating complex products in financial and other areas have underscored the importance for stakeholders to work together to promote education aimed at improving consumer decision-making.
90. Paragraph 6 concerns personal data. The increasing collection and use of personal data by enterprises, fuelled in part by the Internet and technological advances, has highlighted the importance of protecting personal data against consumer privacy violations, including security breaches.
91. Paragraph 7 underscores the importance of enterprises to work with public authorities to help prevent and combat deceptive marketing practices more effectively. Co-operation is also called for to diminish or prevent threats to public health and safety and to the environment. This includes threats associated with the disposal of goods, as well as their consumption and use. This reflects recognition of the importance of considering the entire life-cycle of products.
92. Paragraph 8 calls on enterprises to take the situations of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers into account when they market goods and services. Disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers refer to particular consumers or categories of consumers, who because of personal characteristics or circumstances (like age, mental or physical capacity, education, income, language or remote location) may meet particular difficulties in operating in today’s information-intensive, globalised markets. The paragraph also highlights the growing importance of mobile and other forms of e-commerce in global markets. The benefits that such commerce provides are significant and growing. Governments have spent considerable time examining ways to ensure that consumers are afforded transparent and effective protection that is not less in the case of ecommerce than the level of protection afforded in more traditional forms of commerce.