Consumer law is a field of law which is designed to protect consumers and to provide them with formal legal means of obtaining reparations for damage caused by faulty products. A wide variety of topics are covered in consumer law, including warranties, quality standards, consumer privacy, and certain types of contracts. The goal of such law is to ensure that consumers have rights which are clearly spelled out, and that companies which sell products and services are clearly aware of their responsibilities under the law.
The advent of consumer law came about in the early 20th century, with a series of scandals over contaminated food which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and a number of other measures designed to protect consumers. Prior to regulation of the sales industry, companies could include any ingredients they liked, including known toxins, and they could make a wide range of claims about their products without facing legal penalties. Companies could also use consumer information however they desired, and many governments grew concerned about the possibility for exploitation of a system without any boundaries.
Much of consumer law is concerned with product safety and labeling. Products from cars to cat food need to pass safety tests and adhere to basic safety standards, and manufacturers must have recall systems in place in the event that safety issues are identified. Consumer protection laws also include concerns about labeling. Health claims must be evaluated by government agencies, ingredients and nutritional information must be clearly listed on foods, and product labels may need to provide information about who manufactured a product, where it was manufactured, and how consumers can contact the company to make complaints.
Consumer credit is another large area in consumer law, covering everything from the disclosures which accompany credit card statements to the contracts consumers sign for temporary loans. Many consumer credit laws are designed to ensure that consumers will be well-informed about credit issues, and that companies which extend credit handle consumer information responsibly.
Topics like warranties, service agreements, return policies, and so forth are also covered in consumer law. Consumers also have access to legal options for dealing with companies which make false claims or refuse to honor agreements made with consumers. These options can include filing formal complaints with government agencies and private organizations which advocate for consumers, in addition to taking errant companies to court in a lawsuit.