Professor Vanessa Mak challenges the a one-size-fits-all model of the consumer in modern consumer law in her M-EPLI Talk

by: in Law
Vanessa Mak

M-EPLI was delighted to have Professor Vanessa Mak in Maastricht to discuss her research on consumer law and policy at the M-EPLI Talk on February 6th.

Professor Mak welcomed a diverse audience of academics in private law, public law, law and technology, and legal philosophy. Professor Daniel On moderated the event and Professor Kate O’Reilly provided commentary and ignited the post-talk discussion. 

Three categories of consumers

Professor Mak began her talk, entitled, Who is the Consumer? The Transformation of Consumer Law and Policy in the EU in Light of the Twin Challenges of Digitalisation and Sustainability by asking a “basic” question: Who are consumers in modern day markets? 

She challenged a one-size-fits-all model of the consumer as the weaker party who can be helped by more information. She discussed three, non-mutually exclusive, categories of consumers: (1) the digital consumer, who is constantly being nudged by largely-invisible online marketing strategies, (2) the prosumer, who transitions to the other side of the market as a seller on platforms like Vinted and Marktplaats, and (3) the green consumer, who should play a role in sustainability. 

Professor Mak challenged whether the current information paradigm is the best approach for modern consumer law. After identifying some reasons why this current paradigm falls short, she posed a more provocative question: Is there a viable alternative? 


In seeking answers to this question, Professor Mak builds upon the consumer law framework that she developed in her prior research. This framework considers the values of EU consumer law and policy, lawmaking norms, actors, and processes, and the spectrum of consumer protection tools ranging from information, to warnings, to prohibitions. She also returns to consumer law evergreens that seek to balance autonomy and paternalism, decide between categorical protections versus differentiation, and understand the relationship between EU consumer law and national consumer laws.

Development in consumer identities

Professor Kate O’Reilly provided insightful commentary focusing on two points. First, she questioned whether the liberal political narrative that the consumer is rational, autonomous, and independent influences the construction or modification of modern consumer law frameworks. She discussed the development of consumer identities in EU policy and law as well as how these concepts might translate into national law. Second, she recognized a tension between liberal values in EU law and the values needed to establish an effective sustainability agenda. She drew upon Martha Fineman’s vulnerability theory to ask whether we also should look at inequality from different, non-economic, perspectives and wondered whether the theory of vulnerability can impact a view of consumers as more than market actors.

Professor O’Reilly’s commentary ignited further discussion between Professor Mak and the audience and revealed one certainty: the answers to simple legal questions are complex. 

Follow the project

Professor Mak and her team will continue this groundbreaking work on consumer law and we look forward to keeping up with her research. You can follow her project at ConsumerID, on X (formerly known as Twitter) @consumerID, and on LinkedIn here