Consumers Intrernational caught up with academic Jonathon Hanks ahead of his presentation at CI World Congress on Wednesday. Jonathon is Managing Director of Incite Sustainability, an advocacy group and consultancy that helps companies do better by making sustainability part of their business. He lectures on sustainability strategy at the UCT Graduate School of Business, and recently chaired an international negotiating process involving experts from 90 countries that developed a global standard on social responsibility (ISO 26000).
The University of Cape Town academic's presentation will focus on "reviewing the rights and responsibilities of consumers in effecting a transition to a more sustainable society, noting in particular the nature of their interface with the business community and the role of social responsibility initiatives".
Sustainability and consumers
Hanks believes that "consumers have an important dual role to play, on the one hand by encouraging more sustainable production practices and greater accountability within the business sector, and on the other hand by promoting more sustainable consumption patterns amongst consumers themselves".
He regards having empowered consumers as "critical" in delivering effectively on both roles: "We need consumers (and consumer bodies) who: i) have an informed understanding of the nature of the societal challenges that we face and of the role that they can play in addressing these challenges, ii) have the capacity to engage effectively and credibly with businesses and policy-makers, and iii) have the ability to inform and influence marketers, advertisers and other consumers more generally. All of these require consumer empowerment in some form."
Networking and practical solutions
Taking part in CI World Congress is important to Jonathon: "I'm very much looking forward to participating in this event, with two key objectives in mind: understanding the current thinking within the consumer movement of the role that consumers can play (and are playing) in addressing global societal challenges; meeting and engaging with some of the participating consumer activists, particularly those from developing countries, with the aim of identifying collaborative approaches to meeting our shared agenda of promoting sustainable production and consumption practices."
With regards to his region, he hopes to "identify some practical opportunities for engaging South African consumer bodies with the aim of further promoting corporate accountability and responsibility".
The Congress can prove useful in a practical sense for all consumer groups, according to Jonathon: “I would hope delegates would leave with a heightened sense of the fundamentally important role that consumer bodies can play in addressing sustainability challenges, an appreciation of the responsibility that they have in doing so, and some practical ideas on actions that they can take to deliver on this responsibility.”
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