Consumer Rights and Responsibilities

Objective :

  • Identify the rights of consumers;
  • List the responsibilities of consumers;
  • Explain the roles of organizations and institutions that can tell consumers more about their rights and obligations;
  • Know what resources are available to consumers to ensure their rights are respected.

       

Description :

Students are informed about consumer rights and responsibilities as well as how to negotiate with merchants. They learn how to draft a formal notice (also referred to as a formal demand or a demand letter) based on a scenario.

Equipment :

Introduction :

The teacher leads a class discussion prompting students to reflect on the definitions of “right” and “responsibility” and how these concepts relate.

Rights

In your view, what is a right?

RIGHT, noun – “3a. a thing one may legally or morally claim; the state of being entitled to the privilege or immunity or authority to act (a right of reply; human rights)” [1]

  • Who can grant you a right?
  • Name certain rights you have in your day-to-day life.
  • Name certain rights that you don’t have in your day-to-day life.
  • As a consumer, do you know what your rights are?

Responsibilities

In your view, what is a responsibility?

RESPONSIBILITY, noun– “1a. [...] the state or fact of being responsible (accepts full responsibility for the consequences).” RESPONSIBLE, adjective – “1. [...] liable to be called to account (to a person or for thing).” [2]

  • Who imposes responsibilities on you?
  • Name certain responsibilities you have in your day-to-day life.
  • Do you know your responsibilities as a consumer?

The correlation between rights and responsibilities

  • How do rights relate to responsibilities?

The teacher explains that one person's right becomes the responsibility of another person. In order to be fully exercised, any freedom or right necessarily involves responsibilities. Each of my rights corresponds to a responsibility for someone else. And vice versa. Thus, rights form a system of mutual obligation between persons. Only a person who has duties and bears responsibility can claim to have rights.

In the next part of the activity, the teacher continues the discussion with students, or asks them to conduct a short research session on the Internet and to share the information they find with their classmates. The purpose here is to find out more about the origins of consumer rights and responsibilities in Québec. After conducting their research, the students can even create a timeline.

Explanations :

What are the origins of consumer rights and responsibilities?

A brief history of citizen protection as a concept

1962 (United States) In 1962, during a speech before the U.S. Congress, John F. Kennedy, the first president to raise the issue of consumer protection, named four basic consumer rights:

  • The right to safety
  • The right to be informed
  • The right to be heard
  • The right to choose

Consumers International[3], a worldwide organization, went on to add another four rights to this list:

  • The right to satisfaction of basic needs 
  • The right to redress
  • The right to consumer education 
  • The right to a healthy environment 

1971 (Québec) Created in 1971, revised in 1978, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was born of Québec society's desire to establish rules for protecting consumer interests. This legislation would protect consumers when they enter into a contract to purchase or rent goods or services with a merchant in various areas of sales, rental, credit, or personal loans. In 1971, the province created the Office de la protection du consommateur.

1983 The first World Consumer Rights Day was celebrated on March 15, 1983. Every year it represents an occasion to promote the basic rights of consumers and to draw attention to abuses and social injustices that weaken consumer rights.

1985 On April 9, 1985, the United Nations unanimously adopted the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection. The Guidelines reiterate the eight principles of consumer rights and provide a framework for strengthening national consumer protection policies. When the United Nations adopted these Guidelines, consumer rights were finally recognized as legitimate internationally, as much in developed countries as in developing ones.[4]

CONSUMER RIGHTS[5]

The right to safety 

Be protected against products, manufacturing processes, and services that represent a threat to consumer health or life.

The right to be informed 

Be able to obtain the information needed to make an informed choice and be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising and labelling.

The right to be heard 

Be represented in decision-making spheres to ensure that consumer interests are considered.

The right to choose 

Be able to choose from a range of products and services that meet consumer needs and are available at competitive prices, with the assurance of satisfactory quality.

The right to satisfaction of essential needs 

Have access to essential goods and services: appropriate food, clothing, housing, health care, education, public utilities, water, and hygiene.

The right to redress

Receive fair settlement for substantiated complaints involving a compensation for misrepresentation, defective goods, or unsatisfactory services.

The right to consumer education

Have access to the knowledge and skills necessary to be informed and to confidently choose goods and services, while being aware of fundamental consumer rights and responsibilities.

The right to a healthy environment 

Be able to live and work in an environment that does not threaten the well-being of current and future generations.

In addition, in the 1980s, Consumers International put forward a series of consumer responsibilities as a counterweight to consumer rights. Today these continue to be crucial principles for numerous consumer rights organizations.[6]

CONSUMER RESPONSIBILITIES

Critical awareness

Be informed in order to better understand the products and services the consumer is using and to question their quality.

Action 

Defend himself or herself when the consumer's caused is honest and just. The consumer must assert himself or herself and take action to ensure that he or she obtains a fair deal.

Social responsibility 

Be aware of how his or her behaviour can affect others, especially the disadvantaged, at the local, national, or international level.

Environmental responsibility 

Be sensitive to the potential effects of his or her consumption on the environment by limiting, in particular, waste of natural resources and pollution.

Solidarity 

Be certain that joining forces with other consumers is the way to generate enough strength and influence to promote the interests of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions :

1. Scenarios

Students get together in teams. The teacher asks them to choose one consumer right and one responsibility and to prepare a brief fictitious scenario to illustrate each.

Then, for each scenario, the teams specify which right or responsibility is involved. As regards the right, was it respected or violated? As regards the responsibility, was it exercised by the consumer? Once the scenarios have been prepared, the teacher can randomly select a few to read aloud and ask the class to answer the same questions.

Examples of scenarios prepared by students

a)     Melissa really wants to leave on a trip as soon as possible. She shops on the first website she finds with a search engine. Within 10 minutes, she has purchased an all-inclusive vacation that appeals to her, without even reading the comments from other clients. She paid online using her credit card. The responsibility of critical awareness was not respected. (She didn't find out enough about the services she will be using. She made the purchase impulsively, without asking questions about service quality. She did not make an informed decision. She doesn't know whether the online travel agency is licensed.)

b)    The Schnoubi store has recalled child bed model Z20 after consumers complained it was unstable. Consumers who purchased this model are entitled to replace the Z20 with a safe model or receive a full refund. The right to safety was respected. (The store removed a hazardous product from store shelves.) The right to redress was respected. (The merchant is offering compensation for defective goods.)

c)     Lea received a brand-new cell phone as a Holiday gift. Six months later, her provider is advertising an attractive new model. She decides to use her savings to buy it, has her phone number transferred to the new phone, and then throws her old phone in the garbage. The environmental responsibility was not respected. (Lea was not sensitive to the effects of her consumption on the environment. She just threw out her old device. She did not try to exchange it, sell it, lend it to someone, or recycle it in some other way.)

 

 

2. The steps to negotiating with a merchant

Among the consumer rights discussed earlier, the teacher comes back to the right to redress. In this regard, he or she tells students about the Consumer Protection Act, which sets out specific solutions and recourses for those who are considered consumers under this legislation.

The teacher can also provide a few examples of what a consumer might ask for to settle an issue, as the case may be:

  • replace the goods;
  • have the goods repaired;
  • reduce his or her obligations, for example, by reducing the price paid;
  • force the merchant to respect an obligation;
  • receive damages, in other words, a sum of money to compensate him or her for the wrong sustained;
  • receive exemplary and punitive damages, that is, a sum of money to compensate for the merchant's poor conduct. [7]

Next, the teacher asks students if they know the steps to negotiating with a merchant. He or she writes the answers on the board.

 

Steps when negotiating with a merchant: 

1.  Identify the problem

  • Gather all the documents associated with the problem (invoice, contract, letter, etc.).
  • Reread the contract, warranty, ad, instructions, etc.
  • Pinpoint the problem with the purchased goods or the service provided.

2.  Document the problem

  • File all the documents gathered in a folder.
  • Use this folder to record everything that has happened since the purchase.

3.  Come up with a potential solution

  • Find a satisfactory and realistic solution to the problem. This may be a repair, exchange, full or partial reimbursement, a repeat of the work, and so on.

4.  Choose who you negotiate with

  • Determine who can settle the problem (store manager, owner, etc.) and make an appointment to negotiate in person.

5.  Negotiate an agreement

  • Clearly explain the problem and the solution you are looking for to solve the situation.
  • Let the merchant submit his or her proposals and consider them one by one.
  • If negotiations come to a standstill, consider making concessions or taking some time to think.

6.  Prepare a formal notice

  • If the negotiation fails, the consumer can prepare a formal notice.
  • A formal notice is an official letter that orders the recipient (a merchant, for example) to do or not do something. This can be, for example, to solve a problem, to pay a specific amount, or to fulfill a contract. The formal notice provides the clauses and deadlines to meet.

Steps for making a complaint to a customer service department

1-    Call a frontline customer service agent.

2-    Move up a level – talk to a supervisor.

3-    Prepare a written complaint.

4-    Prepare a formal notice and send it by registered mail.

5-    Show up in small claims court.

 

3. Letter of formal notice (example)

Among the steps seen in Part 2, the teacher focuses on the last one, that is, the letter of formal notice. He or she begins by asking students whether they know what a formal notice is, what it looks like, if they have ever read one, and so on. The teacher then fleshes out their answers with the following information:

What’s a letter of formal notice?

“A formal notice is an official letter that orders the recipient (a merchant, for example) to do or not do something. This can be, for example, to solve a problem, to pay a specific amount, or to fulfill a contract. The formal notice provides clauses and deadlines to meet.”[8]

Why send a formal notice?

“You can send a formal notice when you are unhappy with a product you purchased or a service you received.  The letter provides the merchant with the opportunity to fulfill your request without having to go to court.”[9]

The teacher shows students an example of a formal notice.[10] To do so, he or she distributes a copy to each student or projects the example in front of the class. Using the visual aids, the teacher takes a closer look at the various elements that a letter of formal notice must include: [11]

  • The date
  • The address of the person to whom you are sending it
  • A summary of the key facts
  • What you are asking of the recipient and the reason you think you are entitled to make this request
  • Details on how the recipient can respond to your notice
  • How much time you are giving the recipient to respond to your notice
  • What you intend to do if the recipient does not respond to your notice on time
  • Your signature
  • Your contact information

The teacher informs the students that the letter must be marked as both a formal notice and WITHOUT PREJUDICE, the latter of which allows you to add or specify, during any subsequent legal proceedings, certain information that you may not have thought to include in the letter. He or she also reminds students that in order to ensure a formal notice is received, they must use the services of a bailiff or send the letter by registered mail. Finally, the teacher lets the class know that there are online resources to help consumers prepare a formal notice, such as the tools provided by the Ministère de la Justice, the Office de la protection du consommateur, and Éducaloi.

 

4. Preparing a letter of formal notice

The teacher asks students to read a scenario and to prepare a formal notice based on it and based on what they learned in class.

Here is an example of a formal notice prepared by a student.

Conclusion :

The teacher leads the whole class in a discussion to highlight certain aspects of the activity:

  • What caught your attention?
  • What might be useful to you in the future?
  • What happens once the formal notice is sent to the merchant?
  • Give examples of situations in which you might have to prepare a formal notice.

 

Reinvestment activity

The teacher may propose another scenario. Working together, students identify the consumer rights in the text and the important points to remember when writing the formal notice.

The teacher can also ask the teams to prepare a merchant letter in response to a formal notice sent by a fictitious consumer.

 

Additional resources

  • www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/en/home/: The Office de la protection du consommateur is an agency of the Government of Québec. It interacts with merchants to make sure that they respect their obligations towards consumers. Its involvement focuses on helping consumers make sound choices and on keeping consumers informed of their rights, obligations, and possible recourses should they run into problems with a merchant.
  • www.educaloi.qc.ca/en: Éducaloi is a registered charity whose mission is to inform Quebecers about the law by providing legal information in everyday language. For this activity, visit the Complaints and Solutions section, which provides information on consumer rights and formal notices.
  • www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/en: Website of the Ministère de la Justice du Québec. For this activity, read the article Les petites créances on the Publications page, which provides information on formal notices and on small claims proceedings.

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[1]  The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Second edition. Katherine Barber, Ed. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press (2004).

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Consumers International (CI) is an international federation of consumers’ groups. It represents over 220 member organization in 115 countries.

[4]  According to RéAJC, Charte mondiale, [online; French only]. www.reajc.be/fr/spip.php?article42 [site consulted November 12, 2014].

[5]  According to Consumers International, 50 ans au sein du mouvement mondial des consommateurs, [online]. www.consumersinternational.org/media/33266/ci50bookletebookfrenchv1.pdf [site consulted on January 14, 2015].

[6]  According to Association ATLAS SAÏS, Droits des consommateurs, [online; French only]. www.atlas-sais.ma/droits-des-consommateurs.html [site consulted November 12, 2014].

[7]  Éducaloi, Solving Problems: Options for Consumers, [online]. www.educaloi.qc.ca/en/capsules/solving-problems-options-consumers [site consulted November 13, 2014].

[8]  Office de la protection du consommateur, Comment régler un problème, [online]. www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/consommateur/comment-regler-probleme/mise-en-demeure [site consulted November 5, 2014].

[9]  Ibid.

[10]  Ministère de la Justice du Québec, Writing and sending a formal notice, [online]. www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/en/your-disputes/sending-a-formal-notice-before-filing-an-application/writing-and-sending-a-formal-notice [site consulted August 22, 2017].

[11]  According to Éducaloi, Writing a Demand Letter, [online]. www.educaloi.qc.ca/en/capsules/writing-demand-letter [site consulted November 5, 2014].