Friday, 15 March 2013

Lack of protection for consumers in a changing world

CI Director General Helen McCallum on CI’s unique global survey of consumer protection.

Today, 15 March, is World Consumer Rights Day. To mark it, we are releasing the findings of a remarkable survey, arguably one of a kind.

We asked 70 consumer groups in 58 nations to tell us about the state of consumer protection in their country.

The results, highlighted in the infographic above, have been fascinating.

While the findings reveal a concerning lack of government attention around some of today’s most pressing consumer rights issues; in many countries we also found existing legislation to be ineffective and under-enforced.

Barely half (52%) of the countries surveyed have a national policy to protect consumers. Even where specific legislation does exist, it by no means guarantees consumer justice. For instance, while 91% of governments fine companies that violate consumer laws, only 55% order financial compensation to consumers.

The survey also indicates a lack of government action on contemporary consumer concerns, such as e-commerce, environmental impact and corporate behaviour.

For instance, less than a third of governments (29%) have mechanisms in place to resolve e-commerce disputes out of court; meaning victims of online shopping malpractice may be forced to seek redress through expensive court settlements.

Barely half (52%) require companies to disclose energy consumption of home appliances; leaving consumers unaware of the environmental impact of the goods they buy.

Less than half (47%) use incentive measures – such as tax breaks, exemptions, and labelling schemes – to encourage consumer goods companies to be ethical and socially responsible.

The study also indicated a lack of commitment to consumer education, with only two in five governments indicating its inclusion within national school curricula and just 38% monitoring awareness of consumer rights within their borders. This comes despite consumer education and awareness being cited by many governments as a major tenet of effective consumer protection.

This survey paints the picture of a job half done. While progress has been made in many areas, there is still an unacceptable lack of consumer protection in others – both in the developed and developing world.

It shows that modern consumer concerns - such as digital rights, environmental impact, and corporate responsibility - are not being adequately addressed by governments. And where even the most basic consumer protection laws do exist, they are not being effectively enforced.

This is why, together with our member organisations and supporters, we are demanding better laws, effective policy and tougher enforcement, alongside an update to the UN Guidelines of Consumer Protection so that they truly reflect the legitimate needs of consumers across the world.

Such moves should be the least consumers can expect.

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