Consumer Protection Standards in Europe
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The term protection of consumers' interests falls into descriptive catego-ries and is used to characterize a set of actions aimed at consumer protec-tion facing threats against his/her rights and interests. However, the de-scription of this concept has significant effects. Depending on the sphere of interests and the adopted perspective of observing phenomena and the cur-rent socio-economic situation, the point of view is changing into a set of ac-tions which are important for the consumers’ interests. The idea of protecting consumers' interests appeared already in the nine-teenth century under the conditions of the emerging market economy. The first steps to protect buyers against dishonest trader practices were under-taken by the developing cooperative movement. Consumer movement, like many social movements, was born in the period of rapid growth of industrial-ization in the second half of the nineteenth century. At first, the strongest development was in the USA. Then, the protection of consumer’s interests was developed at the level of the United Nations and became one of the European Union's priorities. It is worth mentioning that European integration has set the problem of protecting consumers' interests in a new light. We should also emphasize that due to the fact that the consumer is a weaker party in the market game, his/her interests are not threatened along with the tightening of relations within the European Union. The development of the European market, but also of the global one, changes only the goal and the direction of the threats against consumer’s interests. Among the prerequisites of protection of consumers' interests, there are usually three groups: economic, legal and social. Economic reasons relate to the massiveness of trade in goods and the monopolization of the market and the so-called consumer atomization and abuse of marketing instru-ments, as well as globalization of the economy, which is associated with decreasing and limiting the role of the state on market. The social founda-tions of protection arise from the need to protect life and achieve human rights. Here, in particular, care for health and standard of living, consumer safety, care for the natural and social environment and the level of consum-er awareness are considered important. The premises for the legal protec-tion of consumers' interests arise, inter alia, from the compulsory situation in which consumers find themselves, the lack of proper preparation for estab-lishing a contractual relationship, representing the smaller property potential, as well as limited possibilities in terms of time and resources that can serve to satisfy their needs. One should also add limited communication of legal regulations and poor knowledge of the principles of shaping the content of the legal relationship established by the consumer. Therefore, the legal pre-requisites for protection concern areas of activity in which the law is not ad-justed according to the conditions of a market game. The source of unfavorable phenomena for the consumer − degrading it in the legal, economic and sociological sphere − is the mass character of trade. This fact results in the loss of important sovereignty for the consum-er. The market economy creates many economic and social problems. Technical progress, mass production, degradation of the natural environ-ment, huge wealth of market offer of goods and services, flood of infor-mation, intense promotional activities of companies are a threat against con-sumer sovereignty and his/her interests. It is also worth pointing out the reasons for the weakness of the consum-er as a market participant. The consumer is urged to meet his/her needs, which often means that he/she is ready to accept the conditions proposed to him/her. He/She also has a weaker position with respect to the group of producers and sellers in terms of economy, time and mental resi- lience. Moreover, the consumer does not have such knowledge of commod-ity, technical, economic and legal matters as producers or traders. He/ She has a threefold role as: recipient of promotional activities of enter- prises, buyer of goods and services, and user of purchased products. Appreciating the importance of the issues of consumer’s interests protec-tion under the current socio-economic circumstances, taking into account the ongoing globalization processes and ever closer European integration, attempts have been made to characterize and assess consumer protection standards in Europe. This book will provide the reader with the necessary information on the topic of the European Union, as well as for the latest consumer empower-ment on contemporary integrated European market. The book is written by European researchers, for whom the problem of consumer rights protection plays a particularly important role and who want to improve the awareness of threats that consumers face on the modern market. The primary target audience of this book will be students who study busi-ness and management and who will be responsible in future for the devel-opment of durable and long-term relationship with consumers. The book will be also useful for consumers on the European market. Academic research-ers as well as practitioners from the business field should be interested in this book. This book should help them to rethink what they do, how they are doing, to encourage them to create effective relationships with consumers and protect their rights. The entire work is divided into three parts. The first part provides an in-troduction to the topic and focuses on the understanding of consumers, their market behaviours as well as the consumption on the European market. This part includes chapters describing different roles played by the con-sumers, their market behaviours, consumer decision making process as well determinants of consumer behaviours. This part also includes descrip-tion of the concept of consumption and of the consumers’ values. Finally, the reader can find an analysis of the importance of consumer awareness phenomenon. Part two presents selected aspects of contemporary compa-nies’ behaviour and issues related to threats against the consumer created by companies on contemporary European market. Furthermore, the authors tackle the problem of competition as well the companies’ ethical and non-ethical beahviors.This part also includes several chapters dedicated to companies’ practices requiring consumers’ protection and consumer awareness and their impact on businesses. And finaly, part three is dedicat-ed to consumers and their protection standards in Europe. One can read about the problems regarding consumer policy on European market, includ-ing models and organizational structure. In addition to it, there are chapters describing consumers’ rights, institutions of consumer rights protection, dif-ferent law and regulations related to classical and digital market, tangible goods, and services sector. The last part ends with several issues related to building consumer awareness. The book itself has been the outcome of a project named Enhancing quality in innovative higher education about consumer awareness – Con-sume-aware, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Un-ion. This project was created by eight partner universities from the Dukenet International Network, including: University of Economics in Katowice – pro- ject leader, Howest University of Applied Sciencies, University of Bucharest, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, Seinäjoki University of Applied Science, Bu-dapest Business School, University of Trento, and University of ISIK. For the publication of this book the proofreading and the terminology glossary were provided by Diana Ionita and Daria Georgiana Protopopescu from the University of Bucharest. Special thanks for the reviewers’ valuable support – Kim Fam from University of Wellington in New Zealand and Antonino Galati from University of Palermo in Italy – whose professional contribution gave this book its finished form.
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