Ethics and the Consumer

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Ethics and the Consumer


The objective of this paper is to identify and analyse the policies specified by government and organisations for the protection of consumer interests and the role of ethics in consumer choice. It also analyses the role of ethics in consumer culture and give examples of how the service sector reacts to it.

The aim of this paper is to understand the movement for ethical consumption and reflect on its scope on the constitution of a new consumer culture, and its role in the “public space”.

It is important to consider, as a starting point to study the importance of ethics in business and the involvement of government in consumer policy, to make a short approach to moral and social responsibility which are the pillars for our work and for all society.

Business ethics is the study of business situations, activities, and decisions where issues of right and wrong are addressed. Crane and Matten (2010)

Ethics is set of moral values and principles that guide human conduct in society. All ethics are relative; there is no right or wrong answer. Ethics serves to balance and there is a good social functioning, allowing nobody gets hurt. In this sense, ethics, although it cannot be confused with the laws, is related to the sense of social justice.

Every society and every group have their own codes of ethics. In a certain country for example, sacrificing animals for scientific research can be ethical. In another country, this approach may circumvent the ethical principles.

According to Singer the “justification of an ethical principle cannot be in terms of any partial or sectional group. Ethics requires us to go beyond ‘I’ and ‘you’ to the universal law, the universalised judgement, the standpoint of the impartial spectator or idea observer, or whatever we choose to call it”. (Singer 1993 p.11)

Consumer Policy

Consumer policy aimed at defending the specific interests of consumers by recognising their fundamental rights and by aiming to reduce inequalities, fight against disloyal practices, promote health and safety and improve the standard of living in general.

According to Vickers (2003) consumer policy can be explained in two ways. One is to describe the subject matter of laws and regulations that are aimed at protecting consumers. The other is to describe consumer policy in terms of the fundamental problems that it seeks to prevent, cure or remedy.

Policy measures are therefore prioritized towards developing a business culture and common standards in society that promote innovation, investment in knowledge, new technology and enterprise, and towards formulating regulations that stimulate enterprise and innovation in companies.

The consumer is seen as the most “weak “in the business in relation business to consumer. The consumer policy was created on the need to protect consumers, and to ensure the rights of the buyer to be free from misleading or unreliable practices that seek to create false beliefs about specific products or companies. The relationship between ethics and the consumer policy should be viewed from the standpoint of an interested party.

Adam Smith went on to say: “But in the mercantile system the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer; and it seems to consider production, and not consumption, as the ultimate end and object of all industry and commerce.”

A number of Government and Non-Government departments are responsible for legislation, which protects consumers’ interests and rights, much of which is enforced through local authority, such as Trading Standards Services and by the Office of Fair Trading and the legislative bodies at the transnational level, such as the United Nations or the European Commission.

As an example we have The Office of Fair Trading which is an independent body (non-ministerial Government Department) whose goal is to make markets work well for consumers. The OFT aims...
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