Friday, 30 April 2010

More consumer groups in Latin America: a worrying sign

Boris Wolf, Global Member Services Coordinator at CI, talks about the atomisation of consumer organisations.

I have been able to have face-to-face meetings with a number of consumer organisations from Argentina, Brazil and Chile last month and would like to share some of the more striking characteristics of the consumer movement in Latin America with readers.

The fact that there are 34 national consumer organisations in Argentina is not seen by CI members as the sign of a healthy consumer movement but rather as a show of weakness which is indicative of a process of atomisation and further loss of relevance of the collective power held by consumers in the face of enduring aggressive corporate practices and government apathy.

What makes the situation of consumer rights uniquely difficult in Argentina is that the Sub-Secretaria dealing with consumer protection is placed under the authority of the Ministry of Trade rather than the Ministry of Justice, as is the case in Brazil.

More generally, members have the feeling that government policies and enforcement actions are not as strong in Argentina as compared to other countries. This has had an impact on both consumer organisations and companies: consumers now routinely turn to consumer organisations for a lot of disputes and problems traditionally ‘outside of their remit’. Equally, companies who once had a relatively good record in attending to consumer claims have stopped paying any attention to them.

On the face of it, the atomisation of the consumer movement is even greater in Chile. More than 70 organisations have official status, from lawyer groups or single-issue groups to groups working at the municipal level. However, there is now a long and sustained history of commitment to working well and transparently with civil society through the support of SERNAC in Chile. There is a similar history of cooperation and trust with Procon-SP in Brazil whose work started in the 80s, long before the existence of the Consumer Code.

But a capacity-building project focused on effective civil society input in regulatory bodies led by IDEC in Brazil has made clear that there is a need for consumer organisations to greatly improve their understanding of the dynamics of government decision-making: regulatory agencies do not have the same relations with consumer groups as they do with consumer affairs departments, for instance.

This is a point that is often missed when it comes to effectively representing the consumer interest by consumer groups.


  1. Looks like there is a strong need for technical assistance for consumer networking and coordination, that could be provided by CI.

    Best, Hector

  2. There is the need for these various consumer groups to come together to form
    Federation of Consumers under one umbrella, which gives them a stronger front. Government agencies and businesses very often exploit the divided consumer front and this does not serve the interests of ordinary consumers on whose behalf these so-called consumer organizations are operating. Opportunism makes professionals and certain people jump on board the consumer bandwagon but with time they disappear when they are not getting the 'business' expected. Ghana hasn't got the problem of numbers but the Consumer groups refuse to form a Federation in spite of efforts of The Consumer Partnership