CI's Head of Campaigns, Justin Macmullan, on why the right to choose is at the heart of this year's theme for World Consumer Rights Day.
In a world sometimes dominated by too much choice, ‘the right to choose’ doesn’t always feel like a right worth fighting for. But maybe the importance of choice should not be measured by the number of different shampoos in a modern hypermarket, but by our ability to hold otherwise unaccountable corporations to account.
After all the right to choose is our right to say ‘no thanks’ when a company lets us down, increases it’s charges or does something that we don’t want to be associated with.
And where could this by more important than in relation to the banks and other financial service providers that look after our money?
Yet in this crucial sector, choice is not working well.
Despite a long list of consumer complaints including high fees and charges, poor service, miss-selling of financial products and contracts that are weighted in favour of the banks (not to mention some banks involvement in the massive financial crisis of 2008) most of us are still wary of moving our money to another provider.
So this World Consumer Rights Day, CI members are campaigning to give consumers a ‘real choice’ in financial services by promoting competition in a sector that too often takes its customers for granted.
Of course the first step is to empower consumers with clear and reliable information so that they understand the choice available to them.
So in Brazil, IDEC is campaigning with the union represents bank staff to ensure that the advice that consumers are given is fair and accurate. And in Germany regional financial advice centres are providing consumers with the advice they need for free.
These two examples and many more are featured on our WCRD activity map, which is now showing well over 40 activities that will be taking place around the world on 15 March.
Take a look at the map to see how consumer groups from Europe to New Zealand will be highlighting the benefits of switching bank accounts. All are making the case that consumers can benefit from moving their money.
But it’s not just in mainstream banking that a lack of competition is a problem. As our map shows in India, Lebanon and the United States CI members are highlighting the high charges facing migrants who want to send money back home to their families.
In many other countries around the world there will be awareness raising events, roundtables and media stories.
Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy, in an address to the US congress, set out four consumer rights that, together with four more that were added by the consumer movement, have formed the backbone of CI’s work ever since. It is one of these rights – the right to choose - that CI members will be highlighting on 15 March.
CI hopes this WCRD will spark new efforts around the world that will give consumers a genuine choice in financial services and make it easier for consumers to move their money.