1962 would have been a busy year for any president: Vietnam, John Glenn, and The Cuban Missile Crisis had already grabbed the headlines. So, in March, as John F. Kennedy got up to speak to Congress you might be surprised as to what was on his mind. Kennedy felt compelled to spend 40 minutes outlining a very specific plan for something this country had never considered: A Consumer Bill of Rights.
The consumer of the early sixties lived in a very different world from the consumer of today. Television advertising, and even the concept of national brands, was something the nation was all still growing accustomed to. Most Americans didn't shop at supermarkets or at super stores. In fact, the first Kmart opened only 14 days prior to his speech. The average purchase was still very local but the problems of the march of technology had begun. Many Americans still bought meat from a butcher and bread from a baker. If you got bad meat you knew whom to blame and they in turn knew that to make a customer sick could be a disaster for their business. The idea of a long-distance provider to consumer relationship was relatively new and thus the unique challenges in policing this new relationship were new, too. The idea that a manufacturer might know about potential dangerous problems yet still make the decision to continue to market and sell that product was probably hard for consumers of the day to grasp. It was outrageous.
Looking though the Consumer Bill of Rights from 1962, we were struck by several things. First, how brilliant and comprehensive the CBR still is. If we only demanded that these same Rights be upheld so many of the challenges of our day could be addressed. Second, and almost in opposition to the first, we feel like we're looking back into a time when much of technology as we know it today had yet to be invented. Although Kennedy mention food ingredients and additives, in his speech it's left out of the BOR. And genetic modifications would be fourty years in the future. No mention of toxins in our shared environment. No mention of sweatshop labor. No mention of giving consumers a complete picture of the environmental and social impact of a product. No mention of transparency into foreign factories. Etc. And how could it? We were so innocent. After all, we were just beginning to realize the risks of smoking. And it would take another 30 plus years to hold that industry responsible.
Fifty years ago the mistakes we were making would be handed down to grandchildren and great grandchildren. Today those mistakes can no longer be handed down. We live with them now as we create them. It isn't our children's children that have Autism, Asthma, ADHD, and Allergies. It's our Children. It's not our children's children that are born with an average of 200 foreign chemical compounds in their umbilical chord fluid. It's our children.
We think it's time to take a fresh look at the Consumer Bill of Rights, dust it off as we begin to envision a new relationship between buyer and provider. A relationship more like the relationship between citizen and government. A relationship that brings the democratic ideals into the consumer space in an effort to drive positive change and more vigorous involvement from all.
Kennedy's original four CBR with rights from subsequent presidents piled on:
1. The right to safety--to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to health or life. (Kennedy) "To expect that his health and safety is taken into account by those who seek his patronage" (Nixon, 1969).
2. The right to be informed--to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful, or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given the facts he needs to make an informed choice. (Kennedy) "The right to accurate information on which to make his free choice." (Nixon) "To recognize the right to consumer education." (Ford)
3. The right to choose--to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices; 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."
"The right to service--the right to convenience, 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).
We've crated a project to rewrite, recommit, globalize JFK's Consumer Bill of Rights. We're breaking it down into phases:
Phase 1. Over the next couple of weeks we'll be posting individual sections and inviting the JFKs, and Thomas Jeffersons of today to update and improve the document and to become founding signers. Be visionary. Be bold. Be revolutionary. Imagine years beyond societies current expectations.
Phase 2. Work through all the submissions with a panel of global experts to settle on language for the updated Consumer Bill of Rights.
Phase 3. Get everybody on earth to read it and sign it online. (The UN adopted JFK's Bill of Rights)
Phase 4. Get every corporation and company on earth to read it and sign it. (Much work to do.)
By Alex Bogusky