Friday, 8 July 2011
Consumers International President Jim Guest talks about 'A worldwide family'
gathering of more than 500 international consumer activists in Hong Kong, I was handed a carved ceremonial mask. It was a gift from Romain Abilé Houehou, the president of a consumer group in the African nation of Benin, as thanks for a long-ago act.
In 1994 Consumers Union gave a fledgling organization in Benin a $5,000 grant to buy a computer and fax machine. Now the consumer movement in Benin and groups we’ve helped in several other developing countries are thriving.
As we at Consumers Union reflect on our own 75 years of struggles and successes, we’re so often impressed by the achievements of even small, new consumer groups with few resources and huge challenges in the world’s least-developed countries.
I was recently elected volunteer President of Consumers International, a federation of more than 220 consumer groups in 115 countries that sponsored the meeting in Hong Kong. The group fights for consumer rights worldwide and mobilizes members in global campaigns such as stopping abuses by the financial-services industry. Consumers in several Latin American countries are often required by banks to sign a financial contract before they’ve been given a chance to read it. That would be prohibited in Europe, where many of the same banks are based.
And while microfinance has greatly helped small farmers and entrepreneurs in India, hundreds—some believe thousands—of suicides have been reported among farmers who couldn’t repay the loans.
Consumers International’s campaign isn’t only against abuses involving financial products. It’s also about ensuring access to fair and reasonable services in rural areas of less-developed countries where basics like savings accounts and micro-loans aren’t even available. For more information about the group and its programs, go to www.consumersinternational.org.
- Jim Guest
Copyright 2011 by Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703, a nonprofit organization. Reprinted with permission from ConsumerReports.org, August 2011.