III. General principles
‘4. Member States should develop, strengthen or maintain a strong consumer protection policy, taking into account the guidelines set out below and relevant international agreements. In so doing, each Member State must 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, and bearing in mind the costs and benefits of proposed measures.
5. The legitimate needs which the guidelines are intended to meet are the following:
(a) Access by consumers to essential goods and services;
(b) The protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers;
(c) The protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety;
(d) The promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers;
(e) Access by consumers to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices according to individual wishes and needs;
(f) Consumer education, including education on the environmental, social and economic consequences of consumer choice;
(g) Availability of effective consumer dispute resolution and redress;
(h) 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;
(i) The promotion of sustainable consumption patterns;
(j) A level of protection for consumers using electronic commerce that is not less than that afforded in other forms of commerce;
(k) The protection of consumer privacy and the global free flow of information.
6. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, particularly in industrialized countries, are the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment. All Member States 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 for the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The special situation and needs of developing countries in this regard should be fully taken into account.
7. 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.
8. Member States 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.
9. 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 paragraph.)
10. The potential positive role of universities and public and private enterprises in research should be considered when developing consumer protection policies.‘
IV. Principles for good business practices
‘11. The principles that establish benchmarks for good business practices for conducting online and offline commercial activities with consumers are as follows:
(a) Fair and equitable treatment. Businesses should deal fairly and honestly with consumers at all stages of their relationship, so that it is an integral part of the business culture. Businesses should avoid practices that harm consumers, particularly with respect to vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers;
(b) Commercial behaviour. Businesses should not subject consumers to illegal, unethical, discriminatory or deceptive practices, such as abusive marketing tactics, abusive debt collection or other improper behaviour that may pose unnecessary risks or harm consumers. Businesses and their authorized agents should have due regard for the interests of consumers and responsibility for upholding consumer protection as an objective;
(c) Disclosure and transparency. Businesses should provide complete, accurate and not misleading information regarding the goods and services, terms, conditions, applicable fees and final costs to enable consumers to take informed decisions. Businesses should ensure easy access to this information, especially to the key terms and conditions, regardless of the means of technology used;
(d) Education and awareness-raising. Businesses should, as appropriate, develop programmes and mechanisms to assist consumers to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to understand risks, including financial risks, to take informed decisions and to access competent and professional advice and assistance, preferably from an independent third party, when needed;
(e) Protection of privacy. Businesses should protect consumers’ privacy through a combination of appropriate control, security, transparency and consent mechanisms relating to the collection and use of their personal data;
(f) Consumer complaints and disputes. Businesses should make available complaints-handling mechanisms that provide consumers with expeditious, fair, transparent, inexpensive, accessible, speedy and effective dispute resolution without unnecessary cost or burden. Businesses should consider subscribing to domestic and international standards pertaining to internal complaints handling, alternative dispute resolution services and customer satisfaction codes.‘