Protecting and Educating Consumers: Mexico’s 1976 Consumer Rights Law

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Forum Room (Omni Shoreham)
Louise E. Walker, Northeastern University
This paper analyzes Mexico’s Federal Consumer Law, which came into effect in 1976 during a moment of economic and political crisis.  After several decades of constant growth and low inflation rates, Mexico’s economy entered into crisis in 1973.  By 1976 President Echeverría was forced to float the peso, which had been pegged to the American dollar since the 1950s, thus ending an extended postwar boom.  At the same time, Echeverría’s populist attempts to reach out to the political Left (following student massacres in 1968 and 1971) angered the Right.  Polarization increased during his term from 1970 to 1976, and during the last few months secret police reports document rumors of a coup d’état.  In this context, Echeverría’s administration passed radical consumer rights legislation.

The law was both part of an international trend in consumer rights legislation, and also a result of Mexico’s increasingly sophisticated consumer economy.  It created two institutions: the Office of the Federal Attorney for Consumer Rights (PROFECO), where consumers could denounce public and private providers of goods and services; and the National Institute of the Consumer (INCO), charged with educating consumers on budget management and savvy shopping.  The paper charts the history of the law and these two institutions in the 1970s and 1980s, arguing that they signaled a major change in the relationship between citizens and the state during a period of heightened economic and political crisis.  Consumers acquired a new official identity within the one-party state system: they became ‘consumer-citizens.’

The analysis is based on denunciation files from PROFECO’s archive, INCO’s published didactic material, press accounts, and legislative debates.

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