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Consumer Protection

Where does the consumer's duty end and the manufacturer's duty begin? Three different theories address this question: The contract, "due care," and the social costs views.

The Contract View of Business' Duties to Consumers

In the contract view of business' duties to consumers, the relationship between a firm and its customers is essentially contractual. When we purchase an item, we enter voluntarily into a "sales contract" with the firm.

The Contract View of Business' Duties to Consumers


who then has a duty to provide a product with the characteristics, they have agreed to supply. Consumers, therefore, have a correlative right to receive the product, they have been promised.

Rawls & Kant's View


This theory rests on the view that such contracts are free agreements that impose on each side, the duty of complying with the terms of the agreement. Both Kant's and Rawls' theories offer justification for this view, and traditional moralists also remind us that contracts are subject to three moral constraints.

Rawls & Kant's View


Both parties must have full knowledge of the agreement, neither party must misrepresent the facts, and neither party must be forced to enter it. The same sorts of arguments that Kant and Rawls use to justify the basic duty to perform ones contracts can justify these secondary constraints.

Contractual theory of business


Hence, the contractual theory of business' duties to consumers claims that a business has four main moral duties. The basic duty of:
a) Complying with the terms of the sales contract, and the secondary duties. b) Of disclosing the nature of the product. c) Avoiding misrepresentation. d) Avoiding the use of duress and undue influence.

Contractual theory of business


By acting in accordance with these duties, a business respects the right of consumers to be treated as free and equal persons. That is, in accordance with their right to be treated only as they have freely consented to be treated.

First, businesses must provide a product that actually lives up to the express claims that they make about it. In addition, they must also carry through on any implied claims they knowingly make about it.

Generally, such claims refer to one of four areas: reliability, service life, maintainability, and product safety. Businesses, therefore, must provide products that are as reliable, longlasting, easily maintained, and as safe as consumers are led to believe them to be.

Contract & Consumer


Since a contract cannot bind where both parties do not have full knowledge. The seller also has a duty to disclose to the buyer any facts about the product that would affect the consumer's decision to purchase it. Sellers also must not misrepresent their products.

Contract & Consumer


Even more than not disclosing information, misrepresentation makes freedom of choice impossible; it is, in reality, coercive. Coercion itself also renders a contract void, because people act irrationally when under the influence of fear.

Sellers must not take advantage of gullibility, immaturity, or ignorance, which reduce the buyer's ability to make a free rational choice.

objections to the contractual theory


The main objections to the contractual theory maintain that the assumptions on which the theory is based are unrealistic. Manufacturers do not deal directly with consumers.

objections to the contractual theory


They do deal indirectly with them through advertisements, however, and promoters of the theory argue that advertisements forge the indirect contractual relationship between seller and the buyer.