The numbers of products are multiplying daily in the market place, and consumers are offered a variety of products to choose and use. It is consumers’ right to know the facts and information needed to make an informed choice. Consumers need information on products such as the name, price, contents of the product, direction for use, storage and warning of dangers if any. Product labeling is, therefore, information given to consumers on the product and its use. Product labeling is becoming synonymous with consumer protection. With more and more products in the market, product labeling is growing in importance daily.
Key characteristics of good product labeling
Good labeling must cover five important areas namely,
- Provide basic information: The product label must state the brand name, the price, the standard certification, manufacturing and expiry date (especially for food items, cosmetics, tonics and medicines) and the name and address of the manufacturer.
- Details of the contents or ingredients: A good product label should give information on the contents, and for food items, the ingredients used. The information provided must be such that consumers can understand the meaning. The information must include the weight and measurements as well.
- Instructions for use: Another characteristic of a good label is one that contains clear and precise instructions on the use of the products. In case of food items, tonics and medicines, the amount and dosages must be clearly stated. On electrical equipments, computers and machinery more information like energy efficiency, energy consumption, eco – labeling etc are needed. The label should also include instructions for storage and maintenance.
- Warnings and contra indication: Labels should also contain warnings of possible dangers and hazards. In case of food, medicines and cosmetics, the label should provide contra indication and possible side effects.
- Visible and easy to read: Labels are for consumers so it should be visible and easy to read, not just coding and signs for the use of the retailers and manufacturers. Often, like in case of medicine, in addition to the core message in the label, detailed information should be provided by means of information sheets.
Roles and responsibilities of a manufacturer in labeling
The final responsibility for consumer redress and the burden of consumer protection lies more with the manufacturer rather than with the retailer. The maxim ‘caveat emptor’ that is ‘let the buyer aware’, is no longer an excuse for manufacturers to produce shoddy goods that endanger the safety of consumers. Retailers who market the products rely on the manufacturers’ information and warranty. The responsibilities of product labeling and safety are clearly that of manufacturers. In this context, we can assign four roles and responsibilities to manufacturers on product labeling.
- Accountability: The manufacturer must be thoroughly sure and convinced that the product he/she is producing is safe for use or consumption. Consumers’ satisfaction, protection and well being should over-ride the profit consideration and decision making.
- Provide accurate and truthful information: Product labeling and product information provided by manufacturers must be accurate and truthful.
- Educate and train the retailers: Retailers sell products of manufacturers to consumers. According to the experience of the consumer movement in Bangladesh, often the retailers who market the product are not able neither to explain the labels on the product nor guide consumers in the use and consumption of such products. So manufacturer should train the retailers and should educate them to help consumers. If the manufacturers train the retailers and educate them t help consumers, even illiterate consumers can be benefited from the information support given by the retailers.
- Consumer redresses: If the consumers are hurt or injured in course of their purchase and use of products, the manufacturers must be committed to provide redress. Ethical business conduct not only provides protection to consumers but also gains consumers’ support for its products and business.
Role of consumers to ensure product labeling
It is often said that consumer is the ‘king’ or ‘queen’, as the case may be, of economic system. But often consumers become jokers and clowns and are exploited by unscrupulous businesspersons. To exercise our power as consumers and to change things for the better, we need to act. We must make things happen and not just wait or talk about things happening. Consumers can do four things that will contribute to the promotion of ethical and accurate product labeling.
- The first thing, the consumers must learn to do, is to promote ethical and accurate product labeling. We must adopt the habit and practice of reading product labels critically. Once the manufacturers and retailers become aware that consumers are reading labels critically and buying products that give accurate information, the manufacturers will learn how to improve their product labeling. Consumers can motivate good labeling practice through such habits.
- The second thing, the consumers can do to improve labeling, is to pro-actively provide feedback and information on inadequate and misleading product labeling. Consumers need to communicate to the manufacturers and retailers about the weaknesses they find in product labeling. By doing so, the consumers will create awareness amongst the manufacturers and retailers on the need for better product labeling. Such information will also help the business persons to improve the development of accurate product labeling through a continuous process of reform.
- The third thing, the consumers can do, is to join a consumers association and collectively advocate good and accurate product labeling. The aim of a consumer association is to educate and protect consumers. By joining a consumer association and working collectively, we can educate ourselves and in the process pro-actively advocate for better product labeling. Such action will also motivate manufacturers and retailers to provide better and accurate product label.
- In addition to the above three actions, consumers can also boycott products that contain misleading labels and also the products of manufacturers who do not respond to consumer feedback and redress. Such firm actions will induce manufacturers to improve product labeling and adopt more responsible trade practices.