Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Will consumer rights be at the heart of global sustainable development policy?

CI’s Head of Advocacy Justin Macmullan, outlines why the inclusion of consumer rights is fundamental for the future of sustainable development.

In 2015 the UN General Assembly has the task of agreeing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will build on the momentum created by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Like the MDGs, the SDGs will represent a major international agreement and have the potential to influence development policy for years to come.

Good progress has already been made and a zero draft sets out seventeen goals with a number of targets under each.

But there is something missing. Consumer rights are not mentioned. CI believes this is a serious omission and we are campaigning for consumer rights to be put back into sustainable development.

The missing link

 

The zero draft does include a goal on Sustainable Consumption and Production (something CI has long campaigned for and strongly supports), however this is largely about supporting and promoting environmental and ethical consumption and, as important as this is, it doesn’t address the wide range of issues that consumers struggle with.

Apart from sustainable consumption and production, there are also many other goals and targets in the draft that consumer organisations would recognise and support – including poverty eradication, promoting an efficient and equitable economy, water, energy and health to name just a few.

Why consumer rights matter


The consumer perspective is important for two reasons.

Firstly consumer protection is fundamental to the implementation of many of the other goals that have been proposed and “implementation” is important. As we have seen with the Millennium Development Goals, it is one thing to develop a set of ambitious goals but it is another to deliver on them.

However consumer protection is also an important issue in its own right. Any full definition of sustainable development should include consumer protection.

After all, people’s ability to consume, the consumption choices they have available to them and whether they are treated fairly as consumers, fundamentally effects the quality of their lives and the lives of those around them.

To give just three examples of why consumer protection is important:
  • The first of the proposed SDGs is to ‘End poverty everywhere'. To achieve this poor and vulnerable people need to be sure that they can spend and save their limited income safely, yet they are often amongst the most exploited in the marketplace.
  • The third of the proposed SDGs calls for ‘Attaining healthy lives for all'. This means that consumers need access to healthcare but also protection against unsafe products and services that cause ill health, injury or death.
  • The eighth of the proposed SDGs calls for 'Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth'. It is hard to see how this can be achieved unless consumers are represented and empowered to play their part in the economy.

Similar points can be made in relation to almost every one of the proposed Goals.

Putting consumer rights back into sustainable development

 

For this reason Consumers International is campaigning for implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection to be added as a target under the proposed goal relating to ‘inclusive societies and access to justice’ or ‘means of implementation’.

This is a practical and realistic proposal. The UN Guidelines are internationally agreed and they have proved their value over more than 30 years.

Through CI’s State of Consumer Protection report we have also demonstrated that it is possible to measure their implementation (though we look forward to seeing what more can be done in this area with the right resources).

The process of negotiating the SDGs is already well advanced, so please join CI’s call for consumer protection to be included in the SDGs by contacting your Minister for Foreign Affairs.

You can also watch my video message on these goals - feel free to share.

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