On Friday, UN Member States will adopt an ambitious set of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals build on the work of the Millennium Development Goals, which focused on poverty eradication and fighting hunger, and will take a more inclusive, universal approach with the addition of new measures to reduce inequality, tackle climate change and environmental degradation, promote peace, prosperity and sustainable economic growth.
With slightly less fanfare, but no less significance to consumer organisations, the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) are also expected to be adopted by this year’s UN General Assembly. Consumers International have been at the heart of this revision process, working with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Member States to ensure they are both stronger and more relevant to consumers in today’s global marketplace.
I strongly believe that much more should be made of this opportunity to link these two important global agendas. Consumers are at the heart of many of the issues dealt with in the UN SDGs and it will be a missed opportunity not to use the UN Guidelines to promote consumer welfare, sustainable consumption and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
People’s ability to consume, the consumption choices available to them and whether they are treated fairly as consumers, fundamentally affects the quality of their lives and of the environment around them.
The UN SDGs’ ambition is commendable, but to meet this ambition, everyone needs to be on board. Consumers are the largest constituency in the economy and should not be ignored.
Consumer protection provides a clear means to curb inequalities and to promote fairness, justice and environmental protection in an increasingly complex global economy.
It ensures that people everywhere are treated fairly and with dignity in the marketplace, and have access to safe, healthy, sustainable products and services. This is particularly important for poor and vulnerable people who are often the most exploited.
There is still time and opportunity. Once the UN SDGs are formally adopted, policy makers’ attention will turn to getting their message across to the public, and to developing ways to measure their progress.
The public will gain a greater understanding of the UN SDGs if their rights as consumers are protected and promoted through the UN SDGs. And a number of the UN SDGs will be achieved far more effectively by including the implementation of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection as an indicator to help measure progress towards the achievement of the UN SDGs.
UNEP, the UN Environment Programme, also recognises the UNGCP’s value and is calling for the same indicator to monitor progress on the UN SDG on sustainable consumption and production. But the UNGCP’s impact covers far more than simply helping people buy the most sustainable option available.
The UN SDGs’ objectives to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and promote shared prosperity, fundamentally rely on how consumers think and act, and how their opportunities, choices and rights are protected – in the developed and developing world.
The eight Millennium Development Goals made great progress in some areas, but fell short in others. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals need to draw on everybody and every policy, to stand any chance of achieving their objectives by 2030.
Consumer protection is an essential partner for this journey. Let’s not miss this opportunity.