United Nations General Assembly adopts new framework for international consumer protection

23 December 2015

Consumer rights have been boosted with the adoption of revised United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection by the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December 2015. With this update, member States have agreed to put UNCTAD at the centre of global consumer protection.

The consumer of the twenty-first century is a global consumer, raising crucial issues such as the protection of consumer data, the enhancement of consumer trust in online commerce and the protection of consumers' financial assets.

As consumers need to trust markets for them to work, the updated UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 22 December, include new chapters on good business practices, dispute resolution and redress.

"The newly revised United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection […] are both stronger and more relevant to today's consumers than any previous international instrument," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement to the International World Congress for consumers in November.

The UN Guidelines also call attention to issues such as universal access to clean energy and public utilities. This will become increasingly relevant as more consumers enter the marketplace, especially in developing countries.

A globalised market also needs enhanced international cooperation.

The UN Guidelines establish a scheme for closer cooperation among countries for the benefit of their consumers.

New, international institutional machinery - an intergovernmental group of experts on consumer protection law and policy - has been established within UNCTAD to monitor the implementation of the guidelines. It will also serve as a forum for exchange of best practices and provide technical cooperation and capacity building for developing countries and economies in transition.

The group will meet under the auspices of UNCTAD for the first time from 17 to 18 October 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Guidelines measure international best practices and contain recommendations to governments when they design legislative and institutional frameworks for consumer protection.

They were firstly adopted in 1985 and expanded to include sustainable consumption in 1999.