Federal Law

Congress has passed many consumer protection laws. These laws protect consumers in several ways. First, they prohibit unfair or misleading trade practices, such as false advertising, unfair pricing, and mislabeling. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal agency primarily concerned with unfair or deceptive trade practices.

Second, federal laws set standards for the quality, safety, and reliability of many goods and services. Failure to meet these standards can result in legal, action against the seller. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Act allows the government to ban, seize, or prevent the sale of harmful products.

Third, the federal government has established many agencies that enforce consumer laws and help consumers. For example, as already mentioned, the Federal Trade Commission has the power to prohibit unfair or deceptive trade practices (such as false advertising) and can take legal action to stop such practices.

Fourth, Congress passes laws and agencies issue rules to improve the operation of the marketplace. In many instances, these laws and rules are designed to give consumers better information about products. For example, in 1992, Congress passed the Nutrition Labelling and Education Act. This law requires that all food product labels list ingredients and nutritional information in a form that most people will be able to understand. With this information, consumers will be able to make smarter choices.

Fifth, a new federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protects consumers against discrimination on the basis of disability. Under the ADA, consumers who are disabled must have equal access to goods and services. Consumers who are disabled include but are not limited to persons who are blind, are deaf, or have a physical disability requiring them to use a wheelchair. The ADA covers all establishments that are generally open to the public. These include grocery, clothing, and hardware stores, as well as Laundromats, hair salons, and gas stations.

What does it mean to say that consumers with disabilities must have equal access? It means that businesses must make reasonable accommodations to ensure that their goods and services are available to persons who are disabled. One accommodation you may have noticed is a ramp that would allow persons using wheelchairs to enter a restaurant that has several steps leading to the entrance. The ADA requires busi­nesses to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities as long as the accommodation is readily achievable. This means that business persons must undertake accommodations that are easy to do and not excessively expensive.