Consumers are encouraged to know the social responsibilities that are due to them.

The CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) movement draws on a history of corporate accountability to society.

Although there is no general consensus on what constitutes CSR and how much of it ought to be prescribed for businesses, several CSR themes overlap with similar ideas in the field of business ethics.

Take the case of Stella Liebeck v McDonald’s (1994) which shows why corporate society should take note. The case reveals a story of an eighty-one year old woman who was burnt by the coffee she had purchased from a McDonald’s outlet.

The woman was awarded $2,900,000 which resulted in public outrage.  They felt that it was irresponsibility by the woman that had led to her being burnt.

A closer examination of the case revealed that the company had brewed their coffee at abnormally high temperatures.  This resulted in the old woman being burnt when the coffee spilled while she was adding the milk and sugar. The family found that their medical bills were high and requested McDonald‘s to assist. They (Macdonald‘s) refused and the family sued.

The jury awarded Ms Liebeck compensation as stated above. It was discovered that there had been complaints of over seven hundred burnt cases that had been lodged. The company had not taken the complainants seriously.

If there was a case of corporate irresponsibility this surely seems to be one. It was the complaints that had been lodged by seven hundred persons that led to the woman being able to receive compensation from the company.

It therefore suggests that consumers should always be willing to lodge their complaints with the relevant authorities.  There is no doubt that corporate society will take their responsibility seriously if they know that consumers are willing to complain.

Remember that Corporate Social Responsibility is voluntary.  A company should want to do what is right by society.

Consumer issues

Organisations which provide goods and services to consumers, as well as other customers, have responsibilities to those consumers and customers. The issues that are mainly applicable for customers purchasing for commercial purposes are dealt with through fair operating practices.

The responsibilities include providing education and accurate information using fair, transparent and helpful marketing information and contractual processes; and promoting sustainable consumption and designing products and services which provide access to all and cater where appropriate for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The term ‘consumer‘ refers to those individuals or groups that make use of the output of the organisation‘s decisions and activities and does not necessarily mean that consumers pay money for goods and services.

Responsibility also involves minimizing risks from the use of goods and services through design, manufacture, distribution, information provision, support services and withdrawal and recall procedures. Many organisations collect or handle personal information and a have a responsibility to protect the security of such information and the privacy of consumers.

These principles apply to all organisations in their role of serving consumers. However the issues may have very different relevance according to the kind of organisation (such as private organisations, public service, local welfare organisations or other types) and the circumstances.

Organisations have significant opportunities to contribute to sustainable consumption and sustainable development through the goods and services they provide, and the information they provide including information on use, repair and disposal.

(Adapted from International Standard ISO 26000)

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