Thursday, 16 July 2015

UN Guidelines breakthrough: A big step forward for consumer protection

The UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection are the global blueprint for consumer protection. Consumer International's (CI) Director General, Amanda Long reports on a historic meeting in Geneva where the final draft of the revised Guidelines were agreed following 3 years of contribution by CI on behalf of its Members. 

Last week I had the honour of attending a special meeting at the UN Headquarters in Geneva.

Together with government delegations, consumer representatives and experts, the meeting agreed the final draft of the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection that will be presented to the UN General Assembly for adoption before the end of the year.

Big wins for consumers include proposals to:
  • Create an Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on consumer protection law and policy to monitor the implementation of the Guidelines, serve as a forum for exchange of best practices and provide technical cooperation and capacity building to developing countries and economies in transition;
  • Add guidance on electronic commerce, financial services, public utilities, good business practices and international cooperation;
  • Include parity of treatment between online and offline consumers and protection of consumer privacy.

For CI this has been a long but important journey. On behalf of our Members we have played a central role in the revision of the UN Guidelines for nearly three years, contributing detailed comments and recommendations at every step of the way.

     The revision was long overdue. The majority of the Guidelines were written before 1985 – five years before the birth of the World Wide Web and well before mobile phones became such a regular part of many people’s lives.

     A collaborative effort

     CI has been at the heart of the action for a number of years. Starting back in 2013, we were the first to produce a full set of detailed recommendations.

     We have worked closely with our Members, as well as UNCTAD staff and member states to contribute to the final draft that was before us last week.

     Real progress

     The new text allows the Guidelines to remain the ground breaking international instrument to strengthen and enhance consumer protection globally.  

     I was particularly pleased with the high level of commitment to establish an IGE to support and monitor implementation of the Guidelines. This really will be key to ensuring effective application.
     The Next step

     Of course we didn’t get everything we wanted. Failure to include Access to Knowledge and responsible marketing in specific sectors such as food, drink and tobacco, are major omissions and issues we must continue to support through other means.

     Ensuring the revised Guidelines improve protection for consumers around the world is the real challenge we face, but it is one that CI is eager to start work on. 

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