The Consumer Council was established in 1959. At its first meeting, the chairman said whatever people earned, they would not get the best standard of living unless they spent wisely. The first Consumer magazine was published that summer. It included advice on how to buy safe Christmas tree lights and how to make nylon stockings last.
The organisation's name changed to the Consumers' Institute in 1963 and in 1967 it became a separate government-funded entity. In 1986, the Lange government set up the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Consumers' Institute lost its government funding. In 1989, the organisation became an incorporated society funded by members' subscriptions.
In 2007 we became Consumer New Zealand. We now have about 90,000 members.
Consumers were outraged at not getting their money's worth at stamp-vending machines. Our testing found some machines couldn't seem to count penny, thrupenny and sixpenny stamps - or money - accurately.
New Zealand adopted decimal currency. Sixpence became five cents, a shilling became 10 cents and a pound became $2. Several Consumer articles talked our readers through the changes and advised them to watch out for retailers who could be trying to cash in on the confusion by upping their prices.
Today salespeople peddle electricity plans and over-priced vacuums, but back in 1968 the pushy door-to-door salesmen were hawking encyclopedias. We outlined all the traps and inducements they used, plus gave advice on what to do if you were tricked or wanted out of the deal. The Door to Door Sales Act came into effect to protect consumers.
A pyramid scheme called Posipow ensnared many unwary investors. As a result of our submissions, the government passed the Trade Practices Act to regulate pyramid selling schemes. Posipow and its promoter were convicted under the Act. The magistrate described it as "a wicked swindle".
Several toddlers died and there were many near-misses in collapsing "mousetrap" pram accidents. We demanded the voluntary safety standards for prams become compulsory.
After many tests and two decades of campaigning by Consumer, the Safety of Children's Nightclothes Act came into effect. This ensured nightclothes had to meet the standards of low-fire-risk fabrics. We began campaigning for this after our tests showed how easily some nightclothes could catch fire and after many children received severe burns.
Our test of 22 electric heaters found 2 that didn't meet safety standards. They were recalled or repaired on site. We tested another 2 plastic fan heaters and our results sparked one of New Zealand's biggest product recalls, involving 250,000 Goldair and 1300 Kambrook heaters.
After decades of exposing dodgy advertising, we were delighted when the Fair Trading Act came into effect. The new law covered misleading advertising, packaging and labelling as well as other unfair selling practices.
After much pushing from us, the Consumer Guarantees Act was passed. It lays out the "guarantees" consumers automatically get when buying. Goods and services must be of acceptable quality, fit for purpose, and information provided on the availability of spare parts. If things go wrong they must be replaced, repaired or refunded.
Consumer Online was launched, placing our wealth of information in one easy-to-access place. We began with free sections on legal rights, letters that get results, consumer news and help to select a dial-up internet plan.
Of the 26 breakfast cereals specifically marketed to children, over half contained at least one-third sugar and some were more than 50 percent sugar - that's 4 teaspoons of sugar in a 30g serve. We called for restrictions on high-fat and high-sugar food marketing to kids.
Two top-selling sunscreens in our test failed to meet their SPF30+ claims. One of them is a Cancer Society product. As a result, the Cancer Society launched a new range of sunscreens that have "an extra wide variation so as to put it beyond reproach".
Long overdue changes to the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and Fair Trading Act finally became law. Some of the significant changes included purchases in online auctions being covered by the CGA and a ban on unsubstantiated claims.
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