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Fair temptation? / Adv Ehud Peleg

 

The goal of businesses is to generate profits from the sale of assets or services to their clients.


Some businesses often precede the transactions with temptations and promising statements, which are not always covered.


What is the allowable limit in tempting consumers to make a purchase?


An absolute lie clearly crosses this limit since it constitutes a deception, which is prohibited by law; but is an absolute lie the only element constituting deception? What about selling illusions?


The Consumer Council has represented plaintiffs in six different lawsuits in small claims court against a company that has turned to consumers with publications, that could lead to the conclusion that after engaging with the company and the publication of photos on its Web site, the consumer will start getting phone calls from productions of prestigious television series for his integrating in one of the series.


The court did not spare words to describe his disgust from the company's conduct, stating, among other things, that the company has acted in bad faith and has intentionally misled the plaintiffs.


One could insist and ask: isn't a commercial business allowed to advertise his services in the most enchanting manner in order to attract buyers? After all, if they do not do so, they do not do whatever it takes in order to maximize profits.


This issue of limit of freedom of conduct in trade life is not disconnected from the definition of the term of 'freedom' in the context of code of conduct in a human society. Does freedom mean you may do whatever you want? In such a case, there might be a problem if the desires of several people collide and the strongest one overcomes. Therefore, such a definition leaves freedom to the strongest ones, just like in the jungle.


In its definitions, the human society seeks to guarantee freedom for all. Therefore, it would restrain the freedom of behavior of one person so that he does not harm others. Thus, the proper social definition of freedom would be do everything you want without harming others.


When does a conflict of interest still may lead to a prohibited harm to others? – When the actions undertaken by one of the parties will disproportionately harm the other one. Proportionality in commercial life is the same balance that guarantees the right of the consumer to get a fair value for a fair price.

The Consumer Council fights against the phenomenon of unfairness in consumerism. Honesty is an upright and transparent conduct by a business to consumers without trying to deceive them and without taking advantage of their weaknesses or of their distress. This is the value by which commercial life should be conducted and it determines the proportionate application of freedom of trade and the right of businesses to maximize profits.


Misleading advertising is clearly contradictory to the definition of the value of fairness and to the definition of freedom since it leads to disproportionate harm to consumers, while denying them the right to make informed purchase decisions based on complete and correct information. Tempting publications display all the reasons to buy a product, including its merits and virtues, but hide their faults and deficiencies. Would this not be too much to expect that the advertising shows positive as well as negative sides? Is it right to expose business owners to a "Test of Angels" and to require them to act against their own interests?


Examining things from the perspective of the business owner will indicate that tempting advertising hide from the consumers information that might affect their decision to purchase, might lead to profit in the short term, but are harmful for the business in the long range in three aspects:


First, the consumer might return the product and cancel the transaction so that the business did not earn anything anyway.


Secondly, the harmed consumers will probably critic the business in a manner that is likely to prejudice his reputation and to keep other customers away.


Finally, if the details that have been hidden were significant, this is against the law that requires "proper disclosure" and this might constitute a crime of deception and lead to governmental sanctions.


Therefore, lack of honesty, is not only inappropriate moral behavior; it is also doubtful whether it is beneficial to the business.


I could not finish without turning to the intelligence of the consumers:

 

businesses will always face the temptation to tempt consumers, but it takes two to tango: whether the temptation is fair or not, a wise consumer will not believe the publications and will want to check them and to see proof of their accuracy.


Throughout the year and especially in the International Consumer Rights Day starting March 15, there is no substitute for skepticism and consumer's control in the fight to prevent dishonesty in commerce.

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The Israel Consumer Council is the largest consumer organization in Israel. It is a statutory, non-profit corporation which works to defend consumers and protect their rights, by handling complaints, seeking solutions..