The original work done by John F. Kennedy on the Consumer Bill of Rights was a towering achievement and it was never our intent to start from scratch. In fact, it was our intent to change the original as little as possible while still expanding and updating the rights. Most changes are less of an oversight or lack of vision by the original drafters, and more to cover changes to the consumer landscape that in 1964 did not exist.
Our amendments are to three of the current five rights. (Clinton added a fifth right during his administration that we included in ours.)
1) The right to safety: We made two additions to the language that we believe represents the expectation that today’s consumer should have as part of an exchange with any enterprise. First, we added “and services” to goods that we are to be protected from that may be hazardous to our health. At the time services like cellular phone service and wifi didn’t exist. As exposure to these low doses of radiation is being studied, it makes sense that we expect companies to take every precaution as their beams move through us even when we are not using that product. We also extended our safety to the “safety of our future.” As we are beginning to understand the cumulative and combined effects of toxins that in a single generation have little risk but over time are becoming environmental triggers of disease and new-found epidemics that seems to require a longer term expectation to safety.
2) The right to be informed: This section saw the biggest changes probably based on two factors: the power of transparency to empower consumers and the newfound access now possible through the creation of the Internet. An asymmetry of information in which more information is in the hands of the producer than in the consumer’s puts the consumer at the mercy of the producer. Moving toward symmetry of information empowers the consumer and encourages good behavior by all in the economic dialog. The first amendment is small but important with the removal of “grossly” that preceded misleading. We felt that misleading information should not be tolerated, whether it is “grossly misleading” or just your standard everyday misleading. Our second amendment was to remove the “the facts he needed” as it was oddly sexist and unnecessary. Finally, we add several more specific pieces of language.
Additions represented here in italics:
“to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful, or misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given, by all goods and service providers, unrestricted access to the complete information needed to make an informed choice, including but not limited to ingredients, materials, origin, labor conditions, life cycle, and political activity.“
These amendments were made to represent our new understanding that what is in our products can be as dangerous as what is in or on our foods. A new consumer expectation that called for knowing what was sprayed on our food as well as material listings for what is in the products we buy is in the spirit of what we now know about pesticides and chemicals. If a producer is going to use pesticides we have the right to know, just as we have the right to know if BPA is in our plastic baby bottles.
We also included language here about “labor conditions” with the belief that although all consumers look for a low price there are many who would not buy at that price if they were aware that it was at the expense of another individual.
There was a time not too long ago when we just expected that people wouldn’t make a product and then make it our problem. Bottle laws are a good example of this. If you put a product in a bottle we expected you would collect those bottle and reuse and recycle. Then we somehow allowed that plastic bottle to go from being the producer’s problem to our problem, society’s problem to recycle and dispose of and pay for the cost of it all. So “life cycle” has become an information requirement for a consumer to make the informed choice Kennedy wanted for us all. Simple enough.
And finally and very specifically we included “political activity” in the list of information needed for consumers to make an educated choice. When the original CBoR was written, corporate campaign financing was a tiny fraction of the now unrestricted money flowing into our political system from special interests. Most of which are corporate special interest. That money combined with money spent lobbying are a critical data point for today’s consumer/citizen and an expectation of transparency would sharply change both consumer behavior and soon after that corporate behavior for the better.
3) The right to choose: This right saw two important amendments. The first is the removal of the phrase “whenever possible” preceding our right to “access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices” We see no reason why this would ever be impossible. We then added the parenthetical phrase, (as long as those prices do not come at the exploitation of others).
At the time of the original framing of the CBoR our own laws to protect our own labor force was all we had to consider because American corporations didn’t look offshore for cheaper labor. Tariffs made it a fruitless endeavor since a tariff would be added to anything produced more cheaply abroad than we could produce here with our own labor. Today the consumer buys from producers foreign and domestic that employ labor in countries that haven’t developed any standards for workers. Progressive companies and activists have worked to step in to create standards where none exist. But there are still abuses and today’s consumer is often left wondering if what they bought helped or harmed others. We suggest in this right that we have the right to great prices as long as that right doesn’t deny or impede somebody else’s right to health, liberty and happiness.
We made no amendments to the 4th or 5th rights. Below is what we refer to as the New Consumer Bill of Rights. We’d like to distribute these as far and wide as possible. Any help and further suggestions would be most welcomed. We’d also like to get progressive companies, of which there are thousands, to sign these new Consumer Bill of Rights along with consumers. To stand shoulder to shoulder in support of a new relationship of trust, transparency and mutual support between we the people and our corporations.
(1) The right to safety–to be protected against the marketing of goods and services that are hazardous to health, life, or the safety of our future.
(2) The right to be informed–to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful, or misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given, by all goods and service providers, unrestricted access to the complete information needed to make an informed choice, including but not limited to ingredients, materials, origin, labor conditions, life cycle, and political activity.
(3) The right to choose–to be assured access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices (as long as those prices do not come at the exploitation of others); and in those industries in which competition is not workable and Government regulation is substituted, an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices.
(4) The right to be heard–to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of Government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.
(5) The right to service–the right to privacy, courtesy, and responsiveness to consumer problems and needs and all steps necessary to ensure that products and services meet the quality and performance levels claimed for them (Clinton, 1994).
Download poster here: http://ge.tt/85YHHT4/v/1 and pass it out at Occupy events.