KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - A two day meeting of the Arab Forum for Consumer Protection was held in Khartoum under the auspices of the Sudanese Standards and Meteorology Organization (SSMO) and the Arab League and under the supervision of the First Vice President Bakri Hassan Sali, 16-17 October 2017.
The forum was addressed by Justin Macmullan, Director of Advocacy, Consumers International.
Following is Macmullan’s address:
Thank you very much to the organisers and hosts for this opportunity to speak at this Arab Standardisation and Consumer Protection Forum. It is excellent to see so many organizations from Sudan and across the region represented here. I would also like to pass on my greetings from our President Mr Bart Combee and our Director General Amanda Long.
For me personally it is also a real pleasure to have had this opportunity to visit Sudan for the first time and I am very grateful for the kindness and hospitality our hosts have shown – everything has been very well organised and I really have felt very well cared for.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our local member organisation. The Sudanese Consumer Association is a member of our council and a great example of an active organisation that is making a real difference for consumers. As I will explain later, consumer organisations have a vital role to play alongside government and business in supporting consumers, so it is very good to be in a country that already has a strong and active consumer group.
CONSUMERS INTERNATIONAL AND MEMBERS
As many of you will know, Consumers International is the international federation of consumer organisations with more than 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries around the world. We have several members in Arabic countries and a small office in Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman, thanks to the generous support of the Public Authority for Consumer Protection.
Those of you who do know us already, will have noticed that this year we introduced a new brand – many people said it was a long time in coming, the old one hadn’t changed in many years. But we didn’t just change the logo and the colour we also introduced a new slogan “coming together for change’ and I want to talk about that this morning.
Internationally our member organisations vary from large well established organisations in some of the wealthiest economies to small and relatively new organisations in some of the poorest economies. However despite these differences, we are all united in the goal of protecting and promoting consumer rights – the set of eight rights that recognise the rights of individuals in the market place. These rights cover a range of issues from the right to access, to the right to be informed, to the right to safety, to the right to redress. Of course our members around the world operate in very different societies and economies but these basic rights remain relevant and important in all these different circumstances.
These rights are also recognised as ‘legitimate needs for consumers’ in the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection. Consumers International was very proud to contribute to the revision of these guidelines which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, and give internationally recognised guidance to all countries on how to support consumers.
But when we talk about coming together for change we also need to think more broadly.
Supporting consumer rights requires legislation, regulations, standards, enforcement and education and is the responsibility of governments, the business sector and civil society. It is, and should be, a shared effort that brings real benefits to the whole country.
Standards are an excellent example of this need to combine different perspectives to achieve outcomes that work for all. They are developed through a multi-stakeholder process. Consumers International has official status with the Consumer Policy Committee of the international standards organisation and we have contributed to may standards over the years including the standard on social responsibility, the energy users standard and the mobile payments standard. Our role is to ensure that consumers needs are adequately addressed in these standards but we fully recognise that to be truly effective they also need the input and participation of industry and national standards bodies. It is an excellent example of sectors working well together to benefit consumers, business and the wider economy.
To bring people together we possibly need to get better at explaining to others how and why consumer protection is important.
Of course the most obvious beneficiaries are consumers themselves, but when you realise that we are all consumers that is an important point! Our ability to buy goods and services, to make informed choices and to be sure that the products and services we buy are safe and meet basic standards is fundamental to our well-being.
But the benefits are not only felt by consumers. Ask any business, from a seller in a local market to the CEO of a big multinational company and they will tell you that consumer trust is central to their business. If consumers trust you and believe that you are treating them fairly and honestly, they will keep buying from you and recommend you to their friends, but if they don’t trust you they will look elsewhere. So it is also in businesses’ interests to treat consumers fairly as well.
Finally it is in the interests of the wider economy as well. Consumers are the largest group in the economy and, on average, personal consumption accounts for about 60% of expenditure in countries around the world. So it is important for the whole country that this proportion of the economy is operating efficiently and to the best standards. An empowered and informed demand side helps to keep the economy competitive – pushing companies to produce high quality products and services at a fair price. And that is not only good for the local economy but it also means that businesses are well positioned to compete in international trade as well.
Many of you will be aware of the Sustainable Development Goals – an ambitious set of targets for poverty reduction and sustainability that were agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2015. If you look at these targets you will soon see that many of them have a close relationship to consumers – from poverty reduction, to improved health, to access to clean energy and clean water. This shows the important role that consumer protection can play in supporting sustainable development.
So there are many benefits to supporting consumer rights and part of our job internationally and nationally is to make this case to government and business so that we can support consumers together.
SUPPORTING CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS
Consuumer organisations will always have an important role. Through their membership and their activities, they can be in close contact with the needs of consumers and really understand the issues that affect their day to day lives. They are well placed to inform and educate consumers but can also keep businesses and government agencies informed about consumers’ experiences and views.
So it is important that these groups are supported, consumers are encouraged to join consumer organisations and, where possible, the opinion of these organisations is taken into account in developing consumer policy and standards. Internationally we are very committed to a collaborative process that puts consumers needs at the heart of development but recognises the expertise and experience that all sectors bring – government, business and consumer groups.
Finally, some quick thoughts about the challenges facing consumers internationally.
- There has undoubtedly been huge progress in recent years in giving consumers access to new products and services, but progress has been unequal and many still do not have access to basic services such as water, energy and food security. Addressing these inequalities and ensuring products and services are available and affordable is a fundamental step in improving consumer rights- and we cannot talk about consumer rights unless the importance of this first right to access is addressed.
In developing consumer policies, it is important to remember consumers who are vulnerable or excluded because they have low incomes, they live in isolated areas, they are old or disabled. When the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015 countries agreed to ‘leave no one behind’; and this should apply to consumer policy and standards as much as any other area.
- However, there are also global trends that create new opportunities and challenges. International trade has improved the availability and choice of products for many consumers around the world. However, with many products now imported from overseas, or made from components from different countries, it is becoming harder to ensure that basic standards are being met. If we are to continue to realise the benefits from international trade we will need to develop both national, regional and international processes to ensure that the safety and reliability of products and food are protected and promoted. Ultimately all these systems have to be built on strong national systems but we also need to think how we can share information and co-operate regionally and internationally. And of course international standards will be central to this.
- Another major trend that we are all aware of is the increasing digitalisation of the economy. In every country now, consumers have access to mobile phones that can be the gateway to communication, information and new markets. They don’t only bring benefits for consumers – many consumer agencies and consumer organisations are also using them to improve their work. Indeed the Public Authority for Consumer Protection in the Sultanate of Oman received an award fro their use of technologu at the G20 this year. Bu these developments are a truly global process with consumers around the world sharing similar experiences – all be it with important differences. These developments bring real opportunities for financial inclusion, to the creation of new markets, to more informed choice. By working together we can understand how to ensure all consumers benefit from these changes, that they are safe online and that the rights consumers expect off line are also recognised online.
Thank you again to our hosts for this opportunity. I look forward to hearing more about the challenges and opportunities for improving the lives of consumers in the region.
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