Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Consumers International World Congress - Day 2 roundup

Over 700 delegates from more than 60 countries have taken part in Day 2 of CI's World Congress in Hong Kong. At the official opening ceremony, HKCC Chairman Anthony Cheung, Chief Executive Hon Donald Tsang of HK SAR, CI President Samuel Ochieng and keynote speaker Connie Hedegaard, EU Commisioner for Climate Action, welcomed the delegates, and outlined the issues on the agenda of the global consumer activists' gathering.

HKCC Chairman Anthony Cheung opened proceedings asserting the greater than ever need for a consumer movement in the light of "the explosion of consumer issues". Current crises were both economic, such as the financial crisis and its linked policies such as quantitative easing, and environmental such as the current radiation crisis in the region. Prof Cheung welcomed the presence of the largest ever delegation from mainland China, over 200, at a World Congress, referring to China as both the largest factory and the largest consumer market in the world in the fastest growing economic region.

Chief Executive Hon Donald Tsang of HK SAR asserted HK’s commitment to the free flow of information, and the role of NGOs and the free media. HK as a major economic and tourist hub received 36 million visitors per year - far greater than its population of seven million. It was now the world’s top location for luxury brands, underpinned by advanced consumer protection legislation. HK participated fully in supra-national ‘framework’ organisations such as APEC and WTO.

Samuel Ochieng, President of Consumers International, drew the attention of Congress to CI’s recent successes putting consumer protection in financial services at the heart of the G20 agenda, strengthening the WHO’s work on marketing of junk food to children and  successfully contributing to the recent completion of the ISO standard on corporate social responsibility. Consumer organisations needed to adapt to the new digital world in which Twitter had as many adherents as the population of Brazil, and Facebook as many as the US. Mr Ochieng's full speech is available here.

Connie Hedegaard, EU Commisioner for Climate Action delivered the keynote address: Empowering consumers in the green economy. She called on consumers to take action on climate change. "We are threatening the planet with our patterns of consumption," she said, adding: "Business as usual is no longer an option. Full transcript of keynote speech is available here.

Video coverage

CI has teamed up with City Univeristy of Hong Kong to get young TV journalists involved in covering the World Congress (video below). The students will report on consumer rights issues. Headed by CTV Deputy Chief Producer, Lu Ma, the team filmed and edited the Opening Ceremony of Consumers International World Congress 2011 in Hong Kong. Click on the label Congress Video for more videos. Photos are also available here.


Session 2: Sustainable Consumption

The distinguished panel that Rasmus Kjeldahl chaired gave the audience ideas to shape what tomorrow's consumers need to have to ensure that the future is not only a word but something real.

Niall Dunne, former Saatchi & Saatchi Sustainability Director, broke the ice and put some good ideas about how little acts and small actions can trigger massive changes. He stressed that networks, as we know them nowadays, are a tool that along with technology and widespread knowledge can achieve those changes that we deserve. He also mentioned that we need to use corporations because they are the world’s greatest problem solvers.

Helio Mattar, from Akatu Institute in Brazil, put a frame on what sustainable consumption should and must be, and he repeated that consumers as individuals have the power they need to be taken into account, but this power needs to be articulated in a collective way. He believes that no company can claim they will be sustainable, because they never will be… it is a long process. Check Helio's presentation here

Premila Kumar, from the Consumer Council of Fiji presented the audience with facts about what is happening in her country because of the irrational use of resources. Fiji, for example, contributes only less than 0.1% of the carbon emission of the world but is suffering dramatic problems because of the emissions that were produced all over the world. She mentioned that these are examples of global problems that need global solutions, and that the Asia Pacific region has to find responses.
Session 3b: An introduction to sustainable consumption in Asia Pacific

Richard Welford's overall message was that Asia has made huge advancements in sustainable production but has not made much progress in pursuing sustainable consumption. 
Richard, founder and chairman of CSR Asia, elaborated on the fact that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not about public relations. It is about what companies do with their profits, how they choose what and where to invest and how this impacts on the communities.
On sustainable consumption, Richard said that we look at production as the principal contributing factor to climate change but have failed to realise that the bulk of energy consumption is not utilised during production of products and services but during the consumption phase. There is a need therefore for education and empowerment of consumers to know this. But (at this point) they need companies to make this happen.

Session 4: Consumer rights and corporate responsibility

This proved to be a fascinating session. While the first speaker, Diana Tsui talked about the drastic fall in the trust in business and thus the resulting growing interest by consumers in companies’ CSR, the next speaker, Jonathon Hanks, an academic from South Africa, questioned the CSR commitment by big companies.
Hanks doubted that consumers still had any trust in business and thus said that consumers are not sufficiently interested in CSR. As CSR is not at the core of a business, it cannot sufficiently deliver sustainable development. What was needed he said was a new concept of shared values and despite the mistrust in big companies, they were in fact able to solve problems as long as they understood that their own, long-term values were at risk. The way forward for consumer groups really was not to support green consumerism as it had failed but rather less consumption.

The third speaker, Guido Adriaenssens talked about research projects into companies’ CSR, and mentioned that three types of companies can usually be found: the no responders (about 10%), the so-called collaborators, who often have good sounding policies on paper but very little on the ground to show for, and the third group, the so-called positive group of companies that engages with the researchers, allows plant visits and even acts on certain research recommendations. 

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