Friday, 22 April 2016

Consumers International launches bid for UN recognition of World Consumer Rights Day

This week at the UNCTAD Roundtable on the ‘UNGCP International
Framework for the Protection of Consumers’ I was delighted to announce that Consumers International is calling for World Consumer Rights Day to be formally recognised by the UN as an international day within the UN calendar.

World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is a fantastic annual celebration that unites consumers around the world. Now is the time for the UN to recognise this day formally and in doing so deliver even more to raise awareness of consumer rights.

For the last 33 years, consumer organisations around the world have joined together on March 15 to mark World Consumer Rights Day; a day that plays a vital role in raising awareness of consumer rights around the globe. The event is regularly marked in more than 90 countries around the world and a wide mix of consumers, consumer organisations, government consumer agencies and international organisations take part.

Formally recognising World Consumer Rights Day as an International Day as already exists for women, the environment, health, children, amongst many others, could help this important annual moment play an even more powerful role in raising awareness of consumer rights and highlighting inadequate consumer protection.

Given the historic adoption of the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection that was achieved at the end of 2015, which recognised important new protections for consumers, there is now an urgent need to raise awareness of these protections for consumers around the globe.  UN recognition of World Consumer Rights Day can play a crucial part in this. At a time when Consumers International has unprecedented engagement from Consumer Protection Agencies around the world, we have an excellent opportunity to campaign for UN recognition for the most important day in the global consumer rights calendar.

World Consumer Rights Day

It is a truly international event. Previous themes for the day have included campaigns on basic rights, safe food, GMOs, trade, public utilities, healthy diets, financial services, phone rights, energy. The day is used to raise awareness of existing rights and shine a light on areas where there is inadequate consumer protection in place. Celebrated by the majority of countries around the world activities marking the day have included media stunts, public meetings, marches, social media campaigns and the publication of test results, surveys and opinion pieces.

The date itself was chosen to commemorate a Special Message to the US Congress made by President John F Kennedy in 1962 in which he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights. He was the first world leader to do so.

A global challenge

Despite this global celebration, we all know that many consumers still face real challenges in their everyday lives, from a lack of access or poor quality goods and services, as well as unfair practices. There is much more to be done to raise awareness of consumer rights amongst consumers, governments and business.

As President John F Kennedy said in his message to the US Congress in 1962,

'Consumers by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group... whose views are often not heard.'

UN recognition for WCRD would be another step towards meeting the challenge that President Kennedy set out more than 50 years ago.

Official UN recognition

Official UN recognition can help to put consumer rights on the map of even more organisations, governments, companies and media outlets. It can help to raise awareness by engaging more people, in more activities, in more countries.

For our Members we expect it will make it more possible for them to get coverage of their activities and secure the participation of senior figures from government or business. It will also help to introduce consumer rights to new groups and help them realise the contribution that consumer rights can make to fairer and stronger economies, poverty reduction, improved health and safety and many other issues that affect people today.  At this time of promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals there is further justification for the need for UN recognition.

Achieving UN recognition requires the support of Member states at the UN General Assembly. But, with the adoption of the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection – and the urgent need to raise awareness of these protections, alongside the promotion of the UN Sustainable development Goals and the quality of our engagement with national Consumer Protection Agencies, we feel we are in the best possible place to put World Consumer Rights Day on the UN map.

We will be contacting our Members soon with more information about how they can get involved - we look forward to working with you to make World Consumer Rights Day an even greater day of action for the future!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

UN General Assembly resolution backs consumers’ right to safe vehicles


As a new UN resolution backs consumers’ rights to safe vehicles, Consumers International’s Director General Amanda Long outlines why urgent action to implement and enforce the resolution is vital to help stop the loss of life on our roads.

Consumers now have the weight of a formal United Nations General Assembly resolution behind them in their demand for safer cars. This is incredibly valuable as it provides a moral catalyst to car manufacturers and governments to improve vehicle safety standards throughout the world by 2020.

The resolution, adopted on April 15, is the strongest-ever United Nations commitment on road safety and is a significant milestone in the bid to curb the number of people killed and injured on our roads. The resolution puts consumer organisations in a stronger position to push for immediate action, holding government and manufacturers accountable to the standards.

This resolution comes at the mid-way point in the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) and supports the ambitious road safety targets now included in the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. It sets a benchmark for safety standards by inviting Member States to adopt policies and measures to implement United Nations vehicle safety regulations or equivalent national standards to ensure that all new motor vehicles, meet applicable minimum regulations for occupant and other road users protection, with seat belts, air bags and active safety systems fitted as standard.

The Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015 demonstrates the scale of the problem; noting only 40 countries require new vehicles to meet all seven priority safety regulations. ­­­

A safer future on the road for consumers

Safer vehicles are urgently needed in low and middle income countries, where consumers suffer from a dangerous double standards approach to safety. It is in these countries where 90% of the road traffic deaths occur, although they have only half of the world’s vehicles.

Major manufacturers continue to produce and sell millions of unsafe cars into weakly regulated low and middle income markets, such as Latin America and India, while simultaneously producing much safer cars for countries with high mandatory safety standards. This is despite costing as little as US $200 to install basic safety features such as air bags and strengthened bodywork.  This can no longer continue, and now the UN has made it clear in its resolution that Member States agree.
Image from Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015

The right to safety is a fundamental consumer right. Governments should immediately introduce the UN mandated safety regulations and car manufacturers should voluntarily adopt them.

This would mean that consumers could be confident that any new car purchased globally will provide at least a minimum degree of protection. It would also ensure that the most unsafe cars, which score zero stars in NCAP tests (which test new cars for crash worthiness), are no longer being produced and sold to consumers.

Consumers International and its Members will continue to urge governments and producers to improve car safety.  For more information on our Global Car Safety Campaign, visit our website.


Monday, 18 April 2016

OECD E-commerce guidelines – a step forward for consumers in the digital age

Robin Simpson, Consumers International's Senior Policy Advisor discusses the recently revised OECD E-commerce guidelines and their implications for consumers.

The OECD published its revised E-commerce guidelines at the end of March. They form a useful outline for any regulator that is developing work in this area and a good starting point for consumer groups that want to evaluate the protection offered to online consumers in their country. 

First issued in 1999 after negotiation by the OECD’s Committee on Consumer Policy in which Consumers International (CI) participated, (and still does) the guidelines have made an important contribution to consumer protection, on issues such as unfair contract terms, transparency of contracts and transactions, dispute resolution machinery, all of which CI supported. 

The new guidelines contain some important additions, they extend to mobile transactions, digital content, non-monetary transactions (such as exchange of personal data), online consumer reviews and C2C platforms. The guidelines in both their 1999 and 2016 versions, are underpinned by the ‘equivalence principle’ that consumers using e-commerce should have the same level of protection as in other forms of commerce. This matters, as CI’s 2013 global survey found that online transactions often received less protection, as national legislation struggled to keep up. 

CI concentrated on two key issues during the four years of negotiation:

Limited liability for consumers in the event of unauthorised or fraudulent charges. This was already recommended in the 1999 version which endorsed ‘chargeback mechanisms’ such as credit card guarantees. We argued successfully for the extension of OECD recognition to ‘escrow’ which parks consumers’ payments with third party intermediaries, such as Alipay in China, which does not release the consumer’s payment until the goods have been delivered and inspected. Such services have existed for centuries and are now spreading rapidly again through e-commerce. The OECD endorsement of limited liability was important for CI in our negotiations in ISO for a standard on mobile payments. We are happy to see it reaffirmed and extended. 

A far less happy outcome relates to digital products where we have long argued in OECD that copyright protection should not extend to disabling a consumer’s computer or other terminal through ‘technical protection measures’, a practice which currently works through software implants, often unbeknown to consumers, who may have inadvertently breached their lease contracts. We argued that if such measures are permitted, they should at least be guided by the principle of proportionality: if I park my car by mistake in your parking bay that does not give you the right to wreck it. The committee failed to reach consensus on this proposal – one delegate described it as ‘too new’ even though the principle of proportionality was spelt out in the Magna Carta, the foundation of English law, in 1250. The only protection offered by the guidelines is a very indirect suggestion that warning be given in the product/contract information. Yet it is well known that almost no-one reads end user licence agreements – they ‘tick, click and hope for the best’. 

Also disappointing to CI is brevity and vagueness of the articles on security and privacy. The guidelines ‘refer out’ to other guidelines such as those on Privacy, which will not necessarily be available to the reader. Yet security issues still inhibit many consumers especially regarding cross-border transactions. As governments continue to fail to reach agreement on ‘applicable law and jurisdiction’, (jargon for which country’s law should be applied) then, faced with insecurity, consumers will flock to third party intermediaries. 

The recently revised OECD guidelines on ‘Consumer Protection in E-commerce’ address recent developments in technology and e-commerce. One emerging area CI has conducted research on is in relation to the Internet of Things and challenges for consumer protection http://consint.info/IoTReportNews 


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

International Progress on UNIT PRICING: Consumers want clear comparative pricing when choosing between products. An ISO standard on Unit Pricing aims to deliver just this!

Ian Jarratt from the Consumers Federation of Australia, is Consumers International's expert voice on the ISO Project Committee which is developing a standard on Unit Pricing. Ian, who also sits on the Australian national committee explains why its important for consumers to be able to compare the price of products, as easily and as quickly as you can buy them.

The unit price is the price of a product per unit of measure, for example $5.52 per kg for a pre-packaged 725g carton of breakfast cereal costing $4.

It allows consumers to easily and quickly compare the price and value for money of pre-packaged and other products. For pre-packaged products it is provided in addition to the selling price.

Unit prices often vary greatly, so by comparing unit prices consumers can substantially reduce how much they spend on products, or get more for the same amount of money.

However, far too often unit pricing for pre-packaged products is either not provided at all, or is not easy to notice, read, understand and use, and therefore underused by consumers.

An effective, consumer-focused international standard for pre-packaged products will benefit consumers in many ways including:
  • facilitating improvements in the quality of the unit pricing of pre-packaged products currently provided by retailers compulsorily or voluntarily; 
  • encouraging the provision of effective unit pricing of pre-packaged products by more retailers; 
  • increasing and strengthening links with the unit pricing of products sold loose from bulk; 
  • increasing competition between retailers and between manufacturers;
  • facilitating international consistency in the provision of unit pricing,

Consumers International (CI) is a liaison member of the ISO Project Committee 294 which is developing a guidance standard for the unit pricing of pre-packaged products.

The Committee will hold its second meeting from 19-21 April in Singapore to discuss the standard’s draft scope and principles.

CI’s representative on the Committee is Ian Jarratt from Australia and Standards Australia is providing the Secretariat.

CI’s draft position paper is now out for comment and available on request from shomer@consint.org. We're aiming for an effective, consumer-orientated standard and we need your input to reflect the needs of members around the globe. PLEASE COMMENT BY 11 APRIL 2016.

Participation in the Committee is open to any ISO member so CI Members should encourage their countries to participate because this topic is highly relevant to consumers everywhere.

The current participating members are: Australia, Canada, Israel, Malaysia, Malta, Singapore and South Africa.

The observer members are: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam.

National standards bodies and interested ISO liaison organisations can get involved by contacting Steven Cooke at steven.cooke@standards.org.au


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Safer Cars: Increased safety is paramount

Antonino Serra Cambaceres, Consumers International's 
Global Programme Manager for Consumer Justice and Protection, outlines why Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is needed in all vehicles following his personal experience of an ESC test on a race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The figures speak for themselves: every year more than 1.2 million people worldwide die from automobile accidents. Car safety is, therefore, an important issue and deserves the attention of those who advocate greater safeguards for consumers.

Consumers International (CI) is working on and supporting campaigns around the world to make cars safer. One way we are doing this is by calling for the inclusion of technological innovations in cars that help decrease the risk of fatal accidents. One of these new technologies is Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a device that allows cars to stabilise when a sudden and unexpected manoeuvre occurs, reducing the risk of roll-overs.

Many countries, including the United States, Israel, Ireland, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Turkey have decided that all new cars sold in their territories must have ESC. In the case of the United States, mandatory ESC was introduced in all new cars in 2012. It is estimated that the device has since saved more than 6,000 lives.

In Latin America the use of ESC is still a pending issue. In Brazil, the government expects that ESC will be mandatory for all new vehicles by 2022, a period too long for PROTESTE - Associação Brasileira de Defesa do Consumidor, one of CI's Brazilian Members , which launched a campaign to establish the device as mandatory by 2018, the date when it will be mandatory in Argentina.



On March 23, PROTESTE invited Brazilian and Mexican journalists for a demonstration of ESC at the Interlagos circuit in the city of Sao Paulo. The idea was to test two identical vehicles, one of which had ESC and the other not; a professional test driver was responsible for manoeuvring both cars with journalists as passengers, so they could personally experience the differences of stability in one car compared to the other.

I was fortunate  to do the test and confess that the result was striking. The driver took us first to the car without ESC by a part of the track and indicated, before performing sudden manoeuvres, the risks entailed with such movements. He then went to another part of the track that had been prepared in advance with cones and a copiously wet pavement and performed the same manoeuvres; showcasing the differences with the dry track. He later ran the tests with the car with ESC. The differences between the two were noticeable, and I experienced in practice how the car with ESC could quickly stabilise to prevent it from skidding or rolling over.


There is no doubt that this technology is essential in avoiding many of the accidents that occur today. Contrary to what one might suppose, the cost of including it in a car only makes a marginal impact on the final cost of the vehicle. We were informed that in Brazil the cost of installation is around USD $50. If we consider the price of some purely aesthetic car accessories like alloy wheels, spoilers or chrome fittings, or stereos that far exceed this figure and which are superfluous, the conclusion is that the inclusion of ESC should be urgent in all new models of cars.

Some luxury cars sold in Latin America already have ESC, raising the sad dichotomy that to have greater security more money is needed; the most popular cars that have the highest sales figures could still wait many years to include an essential device which, as noted, does not involve a significant cost.

We expect the Brazilian government to take note of this and bring forward the introduction of ESC in all cars to 2018. We also expect other Latin American governments to react, making ESC mandatory equipment for all vehicles as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Why KFC, McDonald's and Subway Need to Get Antibiotics Off the Menu

To mark World Consumer Rights Day 2016, Consumers International
(CI) Director General Amanda Long outlines why antibiotic resistance is such an important issue, the role global fast food chains have in tackling it and what CI Members are doing around the world to campaign for #AntibioticsOffTheMenu.


Every week brings a fresh story about the threat to human health from growing antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization has warned that we face a post-antibiotic era, in which we no longer have effective treatment against bacterial infections. If urgent action is not taken to tackle antibiotic resistance we could face a future where common infections and minor injuries can kill again.

Antibiotic resistance is driven by overuse of existing medicines. With over half of the world's antibiotics being consumed by animals, antibiotics in farming is a major contributing factor. Despite this, the use of antibiotics in agriculture is predicted to grow by two thirds: from 63,200 tons in 2010 to 105,600 tons in 2030.




Tuesday 15th March is World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD). Consumers International and its Members are using this day of action in order to call on KFC, McDonald's and Subway to make global, time bound commitments to stop serving meat from animals routinely given antibiotics that are classed as important for human medicine by the World Health Organization.


McDonald's has made such a commitment on chicken in USA and Canada. The commitment does not extend to other types of meat however, nor to other countries outside of North America. Subway has committed to stop serving meat from any animal given antibiotics in the USA. KFC has made no meaningful commitments anywhere.
Of course we would like to see other restaurant chains, as well as meat suppliers and retailers, make global time bound commitments to stop selling meat from animals routinely given antibiotics important for human medicine. We are focusing on these three chains because they have over 100,000 restaurants between them. It is about more than simple buying power however, these are global household names with the ability to influence markets even where they have fewer outlets.
This World Consumer Rights day is about calling for major global brands to act responsibly. Antibiotic resistance is spreading in every region of the world. Left unchecked, antimicrobial resistance will kill 10 million a year by 2050. Given the scale of the global public health crisis the world is facing due to antibiotic resistance, making partial commitments is inadequate. KFC's efforts so far have been token and McDonald's and Subway must go much further.
As global brands KFC, McDonald's and Subway are in a strong position to set the standard for their industry globally and drive a decrease in agricultural use of antibiotics, faster than legislative change alone.
See what CI Members are doing to mark World Consumer Rights Day around the world on the WCRD 2016 Map.
View our #AntibioticsOffTheMenu campaign photos, taken by CI Members across the world outside their local fast food restaurants. 

Monday, 29 February 2016

Campaigning for safer cars for India

Consumer organisations are campaigning for better car safety in India. A participatory strategy development workshop was held in Chennai in February. Swathy Satyamurti, Director of Projects at the Consumers Association of India, reflects on what was achieved.

Why is it that cars manufactured in India don’t have basic safety features like airbags fitted in them? But the same car if manufactured in Europe has it? Is the life of a person living in India any less valuable? Given India’s claim to fame, of having one of the highest number of road fatalities in the world, how can auto manufacturers continue to sell less safe cars in our market? Conveniently, the Indian auto industry found a loophole to circumvent demands for better basic safety features – which is, they are adhering to the safety measures laid down by the Indian Government. 

In 2014, the Global New Car Assessment Programme (GNCAP) focused on the Indian market and tested five popular cars sold in India for crash worthiness. Seeing the most popular small cars (Tata Nano, Maruti Alto, VW Polo, Hyundai i10 and Ford Figo) get Zero star rating and miserably fail safety tests was a clear wakeup call to the Indian Government. Soon thereafter, plans for stringent test regulations as well as India’s own NCAP called Bharath New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme (BNVSAP) were announced late last year.

Now, let’s be clear - India has no dearth of laws, the problem is lack of implementation. So, while I was happy to note the announcement of BNVSAP, there was very little information available in the public domain about its organisational structure, committee members, crash testing facility, guidelines, timelines etc. Also, very little information was available about the implementation of the revised regulations.

Given this background, it was very timely of Consumers International (CI) to call for a focused car safety campaign strategy building workshop in India with five CI Member organisations (Consumer Advocacy Group (CAG), Consumer Association of India (CAI), Consumer Education Research Society (CERC), Consumer Unity & Trust CUTS and Voice Society) that were identified to be actively working on car/road safety. I was most happy to note the venue for the meeting was my home town, Chennai.

Day 1: Tuesday, February 9th 

The day started with two external presenters who were there to give us an overview about Quadricycles and talk about the current cases pending in the Supreme Court. I got so much technical and legal information about Quadricycles from that session that my head is still reeling from it. Let me try to highlight key points in simple words:
  • Bajaj, a leading auto manufacturer in India has announced the launch of a four wheeler called Qute. Although to most people it looks like a small car, as a ‘Quadricycle’, the Qute is being treated as a different category of vehicle, and therefore is not subject to the same safety requirements as cars;  
  • According to Rahul Bajaj, the company’s Managing Director “It provides a very logical upgrade from a three-wheeler for people who want to pay a little more and want to have the comfort and safety of four wheels, four doors, a roof and seatbelts";
  • However, the quadricycle has received lot of flak and criticism from other auto manufacturers and many experts saying that it is not environmentally friendly and lacks safety standards;
  • In fact the definition/classification of the quadricycle has become a legal tangle with multiple petitions in various high courts and now in the Supreme Court questioning the Central Government’s process for creating a new vehicle segment;
  • The Qute is therefore now available only for export markets (to Turkey, Russia, Africa, etc.) as the regulations for India are not yet in place and there is a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court against its launch.
Workshop participants including: Mr. Madhu Sudan Sharma (CUTS), Saroja Sundaram (CAG), Swathy Satyamurti (CAI), Rinki Sharma (VOICE Society), Uday Mawani (CERS) and CI's Indrani Thuraisingham, Joe Weber and Tom McGrath.

Joe Weber, CI’s Advocacy Development Advisor then briefed us about CI’s work on car safety campaigning. We discussed why car safety is a very important issue for India – not simply because India is one of the top five car markets in the world, but also because it is the only one in that list without an effective car safety programme or stringent regulations in place.

The post lunch session was spent resource mapping and identifying the unique selling point that each of the five participating Member organisations have. Indrani, Thuraisingham, Head CI’s Office for Asia Pacific, in her usual flamboyant style made sure there was full transparency and disclosure of all the committee membership we currently hold and the extent of our outreach capabilities, to our vco/cso connections, social media activity levels, etc.

Day 2: Wednesday, February 10th - Visit to GARC

One of the largest vehicle testing facilities in India - the Global Automotive Research Centre (GARC) - is located right here in Chennai and so on Day 2 of the workshop all of us made the two and a half hour trip to visit the facility. Mr. Hariharan, Engineer and his team gave us a detailed presentation about:
  • BNVSAP management structure, test guidelines, timeline for implementation, etc;
  • CMVR (Central Motor Vehicle Regulations) revisions - Government of India has amended the regulations to mandate frontal, side impact and passenger safety tests for all new vehicles by October 2017;
  • GARC readiness - expected to be fully operational by October 2016.

In the discussions that followed, it was interesting to note Mr. Hariharan saying that: “.. the safer the car is, the rasher the driver will drive”. Hence the Indian Government does not want to make cars very safe by mandating all crash tests right away. Instead, it will be done in a phased manner. This to me sounded more like a ploy to delay implementation of tests. It is therefore imperative that consumer organisations work together to put pressure on both the policy makers and the auto manufacturers.

After treating us to a good meal in their cafeteria, the team took us around their 300 acre facility and gave us a look into the testing tracks and the labs (of course strictly with no photographs in some labs to maintain confidentiality). It was a day well spent and we came back to the hotel overloaded with information.

Workshop participants including: Mr. Madhu Sudan Sharma (CUTS), Saroja Sundaram (CAG), Swathy Satyamurti (CAI), Rinki Sharma (VOICE Society), Uday Mawani (CERS) and CI's Indrani Thuraisingham.

Day 3: Strategy building with timelines

Considering that it was just two days in, most of us didn’t know much about Quadricycles, pending PIL’s, revised regulations or about BNVSAP - it was impressive to note how much we had learnt in these two days. So, on Day 3, all five of us along with CI's Joe Weber and Tom McGrath collectively put on our thinking caps and listed down each campaign strategy and discussed various possible activities. In the end, we built a specific game plan of action for each strategy.

A strategy to approach policy makers to request inclusion of consumer organisations into the BNVSAP committee/Board was discussed and agreed. It was also agreed that we need to put pressure on auto manufacturers to adopt safety measures in line with UNECE guidelines.

Lest we slack off, Indrani was sure to document all the action steps to be taken by each participating organisation and the timeline to adhere to.  

We knew a lot of work would be needed post-workshop but we ended our three days feeling good with what we had accomplished in such a short period of time. Indeed, three days well spent.

Follow our campaign progress on #nozerostarcars and the CI campaign pages.