March 15th is World Consumer Rights Day which is an annual occasion for celebration and solidarity within the international consumer movement. Participants observe the day by promoting the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and protesting about the market abuses and social injustices which undermine them. The organisation was first established in 1960 as the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU) by national consumer organisations. The original members recognised that they could build upon their individual strengths by working across national borders. The organisation then rapidly grew and soon became established as the voice of the international consumer movement on issues such as: product and food standards, health and patients’ rights, the environment and sustainable consumption, and the regulation of international trade and public utilities.
The founding of IOCU was initially planned by Elizabeth Schadee, who would later chair the board of Holland’s Consumentenbond, and Caspar Brook, who was the first director of the England’s Consumers’ Association. The two proposed an international conference to make plans that consumer product testing organizations worldwide should work more closely together. The United States organization Consumers Union provided US$10,000 at the direction of Colston Warne to help fund the event. In January 1960, these three organizations sponsored the First International Conference on Consumer Testing in The Hague. Thirty-four people representing seventeen consumer organizations in fourteen countries attended to discuss product testing and founding the International Organization of Consumers Unions as an international organization. Belgium’s Association des Consommateurs and the Australian Consumers’ Association joined the three conference sponsors as the five founding organizations who would provide representatives for the international organization’s initial council.
On March 15 1962 US President John F. Kennedy gave a speech on consumer rights which led to the creation of the Consumer Bill of Rights. Consumer rights activist Anwar Fazal later proposed the observance of a “World Consumer Rights Day” marking that date, and on 15 March 1983 consumer organizations began observing that date as an occasion to promote basic rights of consumers. Today Consumers International is the world federation of consumer groups that serves as an independent and authoritative global voice for consumers. It is based in London, England and currently has over 220 member organisations in 115 countries around the world, the organisation continues to build a powerful international movement to empower and protect consumers everywhere. In campaigning for the rights of consumers across the world, CI seeks to hold corporations to account and acts as a global watchdog against any behaviour that threatens, ignores or abuses the principles of consumer protection.
There are eight basic consumer rights which include the rights to:
- satisfaction of basic needs – to have access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation
- safety – to be protected against products, production processes and services which are hazardous to health or life
- information – to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice, and to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising and labelling.
- choice – to be able to select from a range of products and services, offered at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality
- be heard – to have consumer interests represented in the making and execution of government policy, and in the development of products and services.
- To receive a fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services.
- consumer education – to acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services, while being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them.
- healthy environment -to live and work in an environment that is non-threatening to the well being of present and future generations.
CI campaigns also seek to achieve real changes in government policy and corporate behaviour, whilst raising awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities. In 2012, CI launched Your rights, our mission, its strategic plan for 2013 to 2015. The plan includes four key programme areas combining CI’s work on international advocacy and organisational empowerment around a small number of issues.The programme areas are:
- Consumers access to safe, fair and competitive financial services
- Structure and functions of national bodies
- Fair contracts, charges and practices
- Information design and disclosure
- Redress and dispute resolution
- Stability and safety
- G20 work on financial consumer protection
- Mobile payments
- Support development of financial advice centres and advocacy capacity in developing countries
Food safety, security and nutrition
- Consumers access to safe and nutritious food
- Choosing a healthy diet
- Food labelling on packaging and in restaurants
- A ban on trans fatty acids
- A ban on junk food marketing to kids
- Reformulation of processed food to reduce fat, sugar and salt.
- Food safety
- Facilitate member engagement in international standard setting
- Projects in developing countries to improve food safety syste
- Monitor international processes
Protecting Consumers in the digital age
- Consumers should Be able to hold online service providers to account
- broadband service providers should provideClear and accurate information
- Address consumer concerns about tracking online activity and using this data in marketing
- Consumer representation in global governance relating to the information society.
- Ensuring the consumer voice is heard in international institutions that relate to the information society.
- Access to knowledge
- Consumers’ rights for the fair use of copyright materials to be expanded and better recognised through ranking IP laws and practices and negotiation with IP bodies.
- Consumer justice and protection
- A concerted international effort to support the realisation of consumer rights
Revise UN guidelines
- To bring an increased international focus on the legal empowerment of the consumer
- To Work with international organisations to develop new initiatives and make resources available for consumer protection
- To Work with CI members to support their work at the national level
- Systematic assessment of members capacity
- Map ‘sustainable business models’ for consumer organisations.
- CI has also campaigned on issues like junk food markting and unethical drug promotion, corporate social responsibility and unethical or unsustainable behaviour by corporations and governments.