Tuesday, 9 February 2016

“Five Stars that Save Lives” – Latin American Consumer Organisations unite to Make Cars Safer

Consumers International's (CI) Advocacy Specialist Ebony Riddell Bamber reflects on her experience at a recent car safety workshop in Santiago, Chile with CI Members from Latin America.

An empowered consumer with a five star car! – designed by ASPEC, CI Member in Peru.
It was my first trip to Chile and I was filled with nervous anticipation and excitement about meeting CI Members from across Latin America. Would I be able to communicate effectively (my Portuguese is good, my Spanish is… well more like “Portu-nol”)? Would the issue of unsafe cars being manufactured in Latin America be recognised for what I think it is - a consumer rights crisis? How would colleagues from different contexts (manufacturing countries such as Mexico, importing countries such as El Salvador), with varying levels of car safety regulation, and with vastly different geopolitical profiles (from the Dominican Republic to Brazil) work together to develop shared communications strategies?

In a strange but appropriate coincidence, on our first day in Santiago we passed a Nissan showroom, a Hyundai showroom and the Automobile Club of Chile. We hadn’t even started the workshop but our stakeholder mapping exercise was in full swing. Both of these car companies have achieved a zero star rating for one of their models in Latin NCAP crash test results – the lowest safety ranking in terms of performance in the unfortunate but not unlikely event of a car crash - so they could potentially be identified as key campaign targets. But that would be something we needed to debate collectively through the workshop, alongside other questions: How could we most effectively target governments for tighter regulation of car safety standards? Was it realistic to ask manufacturers to voluntarily adopt UN Vehicle Safety standards? How could we mobilise the power of consumers to make change happen and shift manufacturers to take a more ethical approach to manufacturing and marketing cars in low and middle income markets?

As we climbed the Cerro San Cristobal in the funicular railway marvelling at the amazing views of Santiago and the Andes beyond emerging before us, the voices of excited young passengers filled the air and my thoughts once again drifted to the theme of car safety. Now that I am working on CI’s campaign for safer cars I pause for thought each time I strap my children into the back of my own car (which is actually a four star model if you’re interested – and yes I am considering changing this).  Safety is a universal concern for consumers, and a key consumer right, so why is that generally only people in the US, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan or Australia - i.e. high income markets - enjoy the security of a five star car? Meanwhile 90% of the total road deaths a year (1.3 million according to the World Health Organisation) are taking place in low and middle income countries where zero star cars continue to be manufactured or imported. Lives are needlessly being cut short due to lack of regulation and the sale of unsafe cars.  

Day 1 - Safer Cars for Latin America Workshop

The first day of the workshop involved sharing the robust data being collected by Latin NCAP on the safety performance of various car models being sold across Latin America. As Alejandro Furas from Latin NCAP explained the technical guidelines underpinning the Latin NCAP model of crash testing, and then moved on to showing actual models - such as the Nissan Tsuru and Chevrolet Aveo - being tested, the mood and temperature in the room changed. For some CI Members this was the first time the reality of what a zero star car means to the passengers and vehicle became clear.  It is horrifying, shocking and arresting. People needed some time to cool off, take it all in, and think about what we could do collectively to change this.

Elizabeth Ibérico Robles and Pablo Mayor from ASPEC, CI Member in Peru, share their campaign plan.

The rest of the day continued with a Q&A and presentations, firstly from Stop the Crash which was set up to highlight three important crash avoidance technologies – Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Autonomous Emergency Braking and Anti-Locking Brakes for motorcycles. Stop the Crash and CI are in partnership to push for implementation of these technologies. CI Member Proteste from Brazil highlighted their excellent work to push for Electronic Stability Control to be included in the manufacture of all new vehicles there. Sonia Amaro shared some key campaign nuggets around how to stimulate people to take part in campaign actions (Proteste got support from some 20,000 people in the last car safety campaign!), and influence government officials. 

Day 2 – Country campaign planning

By day two we were ready to start campaign planning. We shared some key tools - such as how to formulate SMART objectives, and the key elements of an advocacy campaign - but most participants were pretty well versed in approaches to shifting policy and practice in favour of consumers. CI Members from across the continent shared information about how they could go about influencing improved regulation, and how this would take different forms. For example, Samuel Vargas and Johanny Ramires de Reyes from FUNDECOM highlighted that the Dominican Republic was an importer of used cars and that the issue was about regulating the safety of these cars before they were sold to consumers, and highlighting what consumers should be looking for in a safe car. Maira Jana Cisneros and Isabel Muñoz from Tribuna Ecutoriana de Consumidores Y Usarios  spoke of the need for civil society and consumer organisations to come together to influence government ministries and manufacturers. 

El Poder shared their strategy, data and campaign tools for strengthening regulation in Mexico, which helped contextualise how other organisations could think about pushing for five star cars across Latin America. Nothing less would do. The need for strengthening consumer awareness was highlighted through their market research work, which showed that safety was only the seventh most important issue to consider when selecting a car for Mexican consumers, just above size of the boot/trunk.  Price and then comfort were most important. Clearly, transforming consumer perceptions will be a key campaign goal.

By the end of day two, we had mini-campaign strategies for seven Latin American countries - shows what can be achieved when a bunch of consumer organisations get together with a clear purpose! 

Claudio Boada from Union de Usarios y Consumidores in Argentina share their comprehensive campaign plan, co-produced with colleagues from Consumidores Argentinos.

Day 3 - #carrosmasseguros

The final day focused on communications strategies and shared regional messaging - which was potentially the most tricky part of the workshop.  Cristian Canales from CI Member ODECU shared a powerful example of anti-drink driving campaign that had been launched in Chile following the death of a nine month old baby girl, called Emilia. This led to the introduction of new legislation with tougher penalties for drink driving. It was agreed that highlighting the human cost of unsafe cars would be a valuable tactic in any campaign in the region to push for improved regulation. Some really fascinating and important points were made about the nuances of developing messaging in the various countries represented, but views coalesced around a couple of key campaign messages (which for now will remain a secret!). 

We all left the workshop having valued the opportunity to develop our knowledge of how to make cars safer for Latin American consumers and cross-fertilise ideas and strategies for change.  Watch this space in the coming months to find out how the campaign progresses!

Workshop farewell photo!

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