Since the Industrial Revolution the close relationship between producer and consumer has gone. People today often have little chance of assessing either the quality or performance of the commodity they purchase. The problem in New Zealand is partly met by official action – by legislation and by regulations designed to prevent abuses and to control dangerous goods and dubious practices. Most Government Departments, in one way or another, have as one of their functions the safeguarding of the public. Prominent in this field are the Departments of Labour, Health, Industries and Commerce, and Scientific and Industrial Research. Among other things, these Departments deal with public health, working conditions, weights and measures, standards of quality, marking of goods, profiteering, and restrictive business practices. Although official action of this kind gives real and extensive protection, it is desirable for the consumer to make, as far as possible, his own decisions. The problem is one of adequate information – this has been met in many countries by organisations of consumers, which provide the buying public with accurate information on goods and services.
Consumer movements were successfully established in several of the more heavily industrialised nations in the period between the two world wars. The value of these organisations was appreciated in New Zealand, and several attempts were made in the late thirties to form consumer groups here. For a variety of reasons, mainly public apathy, these attempts failed, with one exception – the movement for uniform standards.