Consumer law establishes consumer rights, or buyer's rights, generally by providing a product warranty or other consumer guarantees. Consumer rights vary by jurisdiction. In addition to a warranty, consumer protection efforts may include the establishment of a governmental body that monitors the market and provides the consumer with some remedies to correct bad sales practices. A statutory product warranty, which is a law that requires manufacturers to warrant that their products are fit for consumer use, is a significant consumer right. Other laws permit consumers to cancel a contract and obtain a full refund, while some jurisdictions give consumers the right to sue for damages.
Without government interference, the law of the marketplace has historically been "caveat emptor" or "let the buyer beware." Unfortunately, this principle permits unscrupulous businesses to devastate the individual consumer. In 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Consumer Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. Since then, increasing consumer rights have been added by statute and by proclamation, both in the United States and internationally. These consumer rights guarantee choice, safety and notice, among other rights.
While several federal agencies assist in protecting U.S. consumer rights in part, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is one of the federal agencies charged primarily with protecting these rights. The FTC establishes a number of consumer rights by enforcing laws to curb monopolies and bad business practices in industries such as telemarketing and consumer credit card debt. The FTC can levy fines or bring suit against an unscrupulous company for any of its business practices that violate the various consumer protection laws the FTC is charged with enforcing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is another U.S. government agency dedicated to the preservation of consumer rights. The CPSC is charged with protecting client safety and has the ability to investigate and recall a huge range of products.
Each U.S. state also has its own consumer protection laws. These laws cover such areas as establishing a warranty for a product, setting a maximum interest rate, providing penalties for deceptive sales practices and establishing remedies for “lemon” automobiles. Some states have an agency, similar to the FTC, that protects consumer rights. Other states protect consumer rights through another agency or office, such as the attorney general.
In addition to governmental agencies, there are a growing number of non-profit organizations that champion consumer rights. Some publish reports or reviews of products, while others focus on product safety. Still other organizations provide consumer advocates and assist in enforcing consumer rights privately.