Abstract

Consumption patterns influence our quality of life in deep ways, having a substantial effect on both the individual and the society as a whole. Most consumption decisions we make on a daily basis may have an ethical content. Normally our ethical concerns result from personal beliefs and societal influences, not from the Law. The question then becomes whether public entities have legitimacy to impose certain dimensions of ethical behaviour and whether Consumer Law is the appropriate mechanism to achieve such purposes. Government’s role in moulding our consumption habits is doubtful as there is no consensus about the role that Law should play in the promotion of ethical conducts. Traditionally Consumer Law was aimed at protecting the consumer himself. Should legal intervention be expanded to guide consumer behaviour even when the protection of consumers as such is not the goal? In some cases public intervention may be justified with the impact of individual decisions on the community as a whole. In fact, the State is interested in controlling the social costs of individuals’ behaviours that are borne by society at large. However, going beyond the frontier of public interest may be troublesome. This new field of regulatory intervention touches upon some of the values that define us as a society: personal freedom, choice and liberty. Any intervention in this regard should consider the balance between individual freedom and public interest. Citizens should not be treated as creatures deprived of any moral or ethical character.
Full Paper
Fernando Dias Simões
Senior Research Associate

Summary

Consumption patterns influence our quality of life in deep ways, having a substantial effect on both the individual and the society as a whole. Most consumption decisions we make on a daily basis may have an ethical content. Normally our ethical concerns result from personal beliefs and societal influences, not from the Law. The question then becomes whether public entities have legitimacy to impose certain dimensions of ethical behaviour and whether Consumer Law is the appropriate mechanism to achieve such purposes. Government’s role in moulding our consumption habits is doubtful as there is no consensus about the role that Law should play in the promotion of ethical conducts. Traditionally Consumer Law was aimed at protecting the consumer himself. Should legal intervention be expanded to guide consumer behaviour even when the protection of consumers as such is not the goal? In some cases public intervention may be justified with the impact of individual decisions on the community as a whole. In fact, the State is interested in controlling the social costs of individuals’ behaviours that are borne by society at large. However, going beyond the frontier of public interest may be troublesome. This new field of regulatory intervention touches upon some of the values that define us as a society: personal freedom, choice and liberty. Any intervention in this regard should consider the balance between individual freedom and public interest. Citizens should not be treated as creatures deprived of any moral or ethical character.

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