Thursday, 2 July 2009

Caribbean bridges: the recipe for a better future

CI’s Antonino Serra Cambaceres writes from Jolly Harbour, Antigua and Barbuda, where the 7th Caribbean Consumer Conference reflected the need for enhanced networking and cooperation:

‘If something must be confirmed at the end of the 7th Caribbean Consumer Conference that was recently held in Antigua and Barbuda, it is that the consumer movement in the Caribbean is alive...and kicking.

Gathered together under the motto: “The resilience of the consumer movement amidst the food, energy and financial crises – building partnerships for cooperation”, consumer advocates and government officials used the three-day discussion forum to try and find a firm footing within their own realities and the map of the current world crises.

With Grenada, the only absentee, representatives of consumer agencies and associations of all Caricom states discussed how the various crises are affecting consumer welfare. It was argued that under the revised treaty of Chaguaramas – the cornerstone of the Caribbean Community – consumer protection must be one of the main issues that governments must enforce adequately and that all bilateral or regional agreements within the Caricom must assess how consumer rights can be effectively included in any political or trade negotiations.

Consumers International (CI) was present at the conference. We delivered a presentation about consumers and the financial crisis and emphasised that consumers must not be blamed for the crisis, and that regulation must be a tool that govenments should use to to drive markets to more secure paths, now that we know that Adam Smith’s “invisible hands” of markets are nothing but invisible. This presentation, alongside with Philip McClauren’s – past president of the Caribbean Consumer Council (CCC) – led to many serious discussions which all came to the same conclusion that more networking and more common work is the key for the coming times.

CI’s second presentation focused on the future of the consumer movement in this part of the world. While we encouraged the idea and the urgent need for more coordinated work between the Caribbean nations, we also launched the new Caribbean project funded by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) that will be implemented in the next three years in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.

This presented the ideal opportunity to introduce Candice Rowena Ramessar, the newly appointed project coordinator. Candice did a solid presentation of the main project aims and objectives, as well as activities. Side meetings presented a window of time with our partners in this project, as well as with the CCC, and we started to find ways for the wider participation of other countries, as well as the means of interaction we will be likely to develop.

In the end, the idea of bridges that link countries and then within these countries organisations, gained momentum. The general feeling amongst the conference participants was that all efforts can be boosted if the work is performed in teams, and that this is the best recipe for facing the hard times that will remain for a while in this shocked world of ours.’


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  2. In Jamaica and the Caribbean like many developing countries consumer issues are intertwined with community issues. This is is even more pointed for us because of our economic, social & climate change vulnerabilities. Culturally - access to food is not related to the farm but to the nearest fastfood restaurant or corner shop. As a consequence the consumer movement in the Caribbean must mobilise the individual consumer to change attitudes towards nutrition, money and self-determination. A resocialization of the consumer must be part of our agenda at the planning and programme design stages of our outreach and education programmes. The Caribbean is building consensus towards harmonization of consumer protection through the development of policy and a legislative framework, however, we must partner with the social intervention groups which offer the opportunity to meet with community members at home. The theme Your Money, Your Right (WCRD 2010) dovetails into the tagline of the CAC Jamaica's, Protecting Your Rights, Securing Our Future but does the consumer understand what they mean? How is the consumer to translate that into positive action these messages empowers him/her? As leaders of the movement we cannot ignore our responsibility to assist in developing strategies towards social and behavioural change. Consumer education must be relevant and effective. Brochures may be attractive but useless to a population that is illiterate. The Consumer Movement must find itself on the agenda of the adult literacy programme in order to reach that population just as we must learn sign language to reach the deaf population. Our unwillingness to change how we communicate with consumers (regardless of their demographics)marginalises too many of our Caribbean people.
    On another level,leaders of the movement must be willing to increase/change lobbying strategies with governments to ensure that we are at every table as we are in Jamaica (at most)and to do so consistently. I believe that the success of CARICOM is dependent on a united consumer movement that is strong, robust and dynamic. Thanks CI for your new focus on the Caribbean. We need your help. Dorothy JAMAICA