Thursday, 4 February 2016

Consumer Power Can Help #STOPTHECRASH and Save Lives

Consumers International (CI) Director General Amanda Long outlines why consumer power can help stop road crashes around the world, and discusses CI's role in joining the #STOPTHECRASH partnership.

Consumer demand is a very powerful tool in our global marketplace. And today consumers have the chance to use this power to save lives. 

The statistics surrounding traffic crashes and fatalities around the world are shocking. Road crashes kill 1.3 million people every year while tens of millions more are injured. Traffic fatalities are the eighth leading cause of death around the world[i]The International Road Assessment Programme estimates the financial cost of traffic accidents as roughly $ 1.8 trillion per year[ii].

While road crashes affect people in every county, the most damaging impacts of this global problem fall on those nations least able to afford them. Citizens of developing nations are 2.5 times more likely to be killed in traffic as residents in developed nations[iii]. A disproportionate number of those killed and injured are of prime working age, creating an economic drag on entire nations in addition to untold personal tragedy.

Thankfully, the march of technology has continued to make driving a safer, more comfortable experience. From the trusty seatbelt and collapsible steering column, through to more advanced innovations such as the airbag, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), and autonomous braking (AEB), new cars are increasingly able to prevent crashes and protect occupants from the terrible effects of a collision.

But in reality these components are not always included in every car to come off the assembly line. Indeed, the story of car safety is more about how consumers are left at risk when government regulations are lax and consumers have little knowledge of the issue.

Research has shown consumers often assume new cars are as safe as they can be.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.

New Car Assessment Programmes (NCAPs) test new cars – literally driving them at speed into barriers – to test both the strength of the vehicle and how safety features react in a crash. Obviously how well a car performs in a test shows the chances a driver and passengers have of surviving if they are in a real life crash. NCAPs rates cars on their features – five star cars means good, zero star cars means bad. There are now NCAP programmes across most of the world providing safety ratings for new cars in Australasia, Europe, Latin America, South East Asia, and the United States.

It would be easy to think that car manufacturers are striving to ensure all their cars are five star. This would mean consumers obtain the safest possible cars for their money and their new car is well equipped to help them survive.

Sadly this is not always true. It is too often the case that new cars are manufactured without these lifesaving technologies as standard. This problem is particularly prevalent in many low- and middle-income countries, where lax regulations and car companies looking to save on production costs combine to see new cars sold which lack even basic safety features.

If regulations were in place – meaning if governments in all countries set laws for at least the most basic safety features in all cars sold, and possibly went even further and added in some of the new and life saving crash avoidance technologies, such as ESC – car companies would need to comply. Or else they could not sell their unsafe vehicles anywhere.

This is where consumers can play a role. By demanding the safety features that manufacturers all too often do not include as standard, and indeed, in a shocking amount of countries do not even consider important. Consumers must call for safety, but also for equality.  On a global stage, a car buyer in Mexico should not be any less safe than a car buyer across the border in the USA.

Consumers International, the international federation of consumer organisations with 250 Members in 120 countries, has joined the #STOPTHECRASH partnership in their campaign to have crucial safety technology installed as standard in all new vehicles, regardless of where they’re produced or sold. The #STOPTHECRASH partnership is led by Global NCAP (the umbrella body of NCAP’s worldwide) working in conjunction with technology manufacturers and Civil Society groups around the world. The partnership is pushing for UN member states, especially those with significant automobile production, to include minimum safety features, and also to mandate ESC in all new models by 2018 and in all automobiles in production by the end of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is widely considered to be the most significant development in car safety technology since the introduction of the seatbelt more than half a century ago.  When a car is in a high speed skid, this technology autocorrects the slide. It is an amazing feeling to have your car stabilize when it is out of control. Seventeen case studies between 2001 and 2007 have shown ESC to be highly effective, reducing single vehicle crashes by approximately 30% and averting 188,500 crashes in Europe alone, saving over 6,000 lives[iv].

With the recent drafting of global regulations for ESC by the UN, it has never been easier for Member States to mandate the technology. #STOPTHECRASH seeks to put pressure on governments and work with nations looking to adopt the regulations. ESC is now mandatory in Australia, Canada, the EU, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and the USA. Argentina and Brazil have also recently committed to making the system compulsory.

It’s the true push and pull of consumer demand combined with pressure on governments to adopt regulations that will save lives. As we head into the second half of the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, the pressure is on to meet the ambitious targets set in 2010. It is only through concerted global initiatives such as #STOPTHECRASH that bring together representatives from government, industry, consumer groups and Civil Society that we will see meaningful improvements in the rate of road fatalities around the world. That means lives saved.

While global tragedies on the scale of road crashes can seem insurmountable, there are proven methods available to us as an international community to dramatically reduce the numbers of people dying on the road. Pushing for mandatory inclusion of life saving technology in all new vehicles is one of these tried and tested methods. Consumers have a huge roll to play.

Consumers International is excited and proud to be a part of this cause and this movement.  We will be working with our international network of consumer organisations to publicise the importance of car safety features and exerting influence on both governments and car manufacturers to adopt the regulations.

Manufacturers will listen and include safety features and crash avoidance technologies in new cars once it is clear to them that this is what consumers are demanding.

Read this blog on the Huffington Post - 'Consumer power can help stop the crash'. 

[i] World Health Organisation. (2013). Global status report on road safety 2013.
[ii] International Road Assessment Programme. (2008). The Global Cost of Road Crashes.
[iii] World Health Organisation. (n.d.). Road traffic death rate by WHO region and income level. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from
[iv] [1] European Commission. (n.d.). Electronic stability control. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Building consumer demand for safer cars

Joe Weber, Consumer International's Advocacy Development Advisor outlines why now is the time for consumer groups to help step up the campaign on vehicle safety to help ensure all people have safe cars across the world. 

Consumer organisations are increasingly enthusiastic about their role in helping to build demand for safer cars in India, where more than 150,000 people die on the road every year.

As part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) to test vehicles sold in India, as well as Latin America and Southeast Asia. NCAP test rates vehicles on a scale from 0-5 stars, and consumers can draw on this information to help them choose safer cars.

NCAP has shown that increasing consumer demand for safer cars, combined with exerting pressure on car manufacturers to incorporate better safety features into their vehicles, can make significant improvements to the safety of cars.

Consumer organisations recently gathered for a series of events in Brazil focused on road and car safety which has bolstered their enthusiasm.  Senior executives attended meetings such as:

  • The Second Global High-Level Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, which issued a declaration calling on governments to adopt UN regulations on vehicle safety;
  • The launch of the Stop the Crash Initiative, which highlighted new technologies that can help prevent crashes from occurring;
  • And the Consumers International World Congress, where consumer organisations shared campaign successes, including successes on car safety issues.
Ashim Sanyal of VOICE Society, a consumer protection group, said, “The next three years are vital for road safety in India, as our country is on the threshold of improvements, but we are walking on a tightrope.” While road construction and regulations for drivers are important, he believes that when consumers see the safety rating of crash tested vehicles, the demand for safety will grow.

United Nations regulations provide a legal framework that can be adopted by countries, but to date only 40 countries have requirements that meet all seven priority safety regulations. Manufacturers include multiple safety features in cars in Europe and the United States, but they are absent in many vehicles elsewhere in the world.

India, which is now one of the leading middle-income car producing countries, is likely to adopt a new Motor Vehicles Act next year, which will set car safety standards for the sub-continent.

Swathy Satyamurti, Projects Director for the Consumers Association of India, was impressed by the Stop the Crash demonstration in Brazil. “You can really feel how much safer the technology makes you,” she said. “Human life is very important and people everywhere deserve the same access to safety, so I welcome the Brasilia Declaration.  However, it is not enough to just promise these things; governments need to implement them. We, as consumer organisations, have the role to raise awareness among our people so that there is demand for this.”

Consumer organisations have written to car manufacturers calling on them to voluntarily adopt the UN regulations, and to cease selling zero-star rated cars.  Governments are also being approached by consumer organisations and are being asked to adopt the UN regulations.

Consumer groups are ready to help step up the campaign on vehicle safety and to help ensure all people, wherever they live, have safe cars.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Consumers Unite: You have nothing to lose but your inhibitions

Consumers International 20th World Congress moderator, and former BBC World News presenter, Nisha Pillai, reflects on her Congress experience.

I made a shame-faced confession at last month’s Consumers International World Congress in balmy Brasilia – in front of seven hundred consumer activists from round the world, the admission that I had never heard of their organisation.  But that state of ignorance isn’t going to last much longer I suspect. For under the dynamic leadership of its new Director General, Amanda Long, this hitherto somewhat retiring organisation is leaping into the global limelight. Look out for Consumers International!

The CI Congress in Brasilia was the first conference I’ve moderated where Panel Discussions were banished in favour of  Interactive Discussions. So why did ditching the word ‘panel’ for ‘interactive’ matter? Well, what happened was that all the plenary sessions positively encouraged contributions from the delegates – not just questions but comments too – rather than the token few minutes reserved for questions from the floor at most conferences. 

This really made a difference to the way delegates took ownership of the discussions and turned each plenary session into a giant conversation in the airy plenary hall. Indeed my confession popped out during an especially free-flowing  and energetic plenary  on how consumers associations can work together to have more impact globally. This is a key existential question for consumers associations at a time when their traditional MO is under threat from  web-based peer-exchange platforms. 

During the course of the next two days there was a palpable shift – or so it seemed to me – in favour of more collaborative engagement at an international level, as championed by Marta Tellado from the US, Bart CombĂ©e from the Netherlands, Alan Kirkland from Australia and so many other voices from the floor. Was this shift in thinking linked to the interactive, democratic style of the Congress? I’d like to think so.

Especially striking was the emphatic endorsement by the Congress of  two pretty radical moves by CI into the arena of international campaigning. The first, the launch of a ‘People’s Charter for the Internet’ aims to harness the lobbying power of several hundred consumer associations to ensure that the promise of the internet is not exploited by giant multinationals. 

The second campaign came as a complete surprise to everyone at the Congress, an ambitious effort spearheaded by CI to get the three largest fast food chains McDonalds, Subway and KFC to stop the use of antibiotics in their meat and chicken. Again the aim is to use the lobbying power of hundreds of consumers associations round the world to pressure these giant restaurant multinationals to respond to an issue of huge international concern.

So I’ll end by saying good luck to CI and its efforts to create a more powerful voice for consumers round the world. After all, rich or poor, we’re all consumers one way or the other.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Groundbreaking Partnership to Create a People's Charter for the Internet

Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International and Anne Jellema, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation discuss their new partnership to create a People's Charter for the Internet and what this will mean for consumers.
"The web is now a public resource on which people, businesses, communities and governments depend. I believe that the future of the Web is under threat from some governments that may abuse their powers, some businesses that may try to undermine the open market, and from criminal activity. The future of the Web depends on ordinary people taking responsibility for this extraordinary resource and challenging those who seek to manipulate the Web against the public good."
So wrote Sir Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web inventor, and founding director of the Web Foundation, last year. Of course, the opportunities - and challenges - posed by digital technology have been long foretold. In 1962, addressing the United States Congress, US president John F. Kennedy observed: "The march of technology... has increased the difficulties of the consumer along with the opportunities; and it has outmoded many of the old laws and regulations and made new legislation necessary."

What can we do to ensure that Internet's power is returned to individuals, and that the Web is advanced as a public good that benefits all of us?
At Consumers International, and the World Wide Web Foundation, we think it's time for a People's Charter for the Internet. One which starts with the presumption that all women and men should have equal access to the life-changing power of the Internet, and should have the same rights and freedoms online as apply offline. One that gives us control over our personal data and how it is used, whether by companies, governments or other organisations. One which puts fledgling entrepreneurs on a level playing field with giant multi-nationals, and gives everyone a chance to create and succeed - whether in business, science, education or any field of human endeavour.
We're not alone in feeling this way. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy has declared that it's time for a new 'Geneva Convention' for the Internet. Countries such as Brazil and Italy have created their own 'Bills of Rights' for the Internet. Meanwhile, 80% of respondents to a recent Consumers International member survey said that legislation, regulation and standards relating to redress are ineffective at keeping pace with the digital economy.
We know what is at stake and so we are determined to tackle this challenge. That's why, today, we're announcing a new partnership between Consumers International and the World Wide Web Foundation to drive this idea forward. By joining forces, we can bring together over 400 member and partner organisations that span consumer rights, digital rights and civil liberties across more than 120 countries. By bridging our two communities, we can create a powerful vehicle for change.
How might we develop such a Charter? We're clear that it needs to balance the views of experts, industry stakeholders, regulators and ordinary people, so it truly reflects the Web we all want, and we'll be gathering views far and wide. And how might it be used? We're not naive enough to think that it will become international law anytime soon, but using our networks, we can work to convince companies and governments to commit to its principles, and ensure that the Internet advances empowerment, rights and opportunity for all..
We'll be making more announcements in the new year with specifics about how the Charter will be built and launched, but for now keep up to date with developments on the Consumers International website and on our social media channels, Facebook: and Twitter: @Consumers_Int.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

UN Sustainable Development Goals and consumer protection: A shared 2030 Agenda

With the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals this weekend, the world will take an important step towards a more sustainable future. But the journey can be made so much easier with consumer protection as a companion, writes Consumers International's (CI) Director General Amanda Long.

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. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Consumer data protection and the need for alternative new responses

Speaking at the International Symposium on Rule of Law and Consumer Data Protection in Beijing last week, CI’s Director General Amanda Long outlined why data is fast becoming a defining consumer issue for the 21st Century, and the need to identify effective responses that ensure consumers benefit from this data-driven innovation.

The Internet and the innovations it has given rise to, have delivered unprecedented benefits for billions of consumers. 

Data is the commodity that is powering much of this innovation and the digital economy more widely. Handing over personal data is now as key to facilitating an online transaction as handing over money.

While enjoying the benefits, consumers are expressing increasing unease over how personal data is being used.  

The latest European Commission research with consumers reveals that:
  • 67% are concerned about not having complete control over the information they provide online;
  • 71% feel that providing personal information is an increasing part of modern life and accept there is no alternative to providing it if they want to obtain products and services.

New research from the University of Pennsylvania finds that:
"Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them…..More than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened."

Concerns expressed by consumer advocates are reflecting these sentiments. In our recent Global Consumer Protection Survey, CI Members expressed concerns that the digital economy’s rapid evolution is outmoding and outpacing consumer protection:
  • 76% felt enforcement of consumer protection is ineffective in the digital economy (worse than any other sector);
  • 80% judged legislation, regulation and standards relating to redress as ineffective at keeping pace with the digital economy.

Is it time to reboot how we approach data protection?

Today’s smartphone era is characterised by the ease and efficiency with which data can be collected, processed, stored and transmitted; and also by the range of data that is collected including: location, browsing history, contacts and purchases made to name a few.

And yet much of the current data protection legislation around the world was framed as response to the era of mainframe computers and early databases.

Consumers’ growing sense of powerlessness and loss of control in relation to the collection of our personal data is therefore an understandable response.

How best to respond? 

When agile is the guiding principle for how tech companies organise, when products are developed in ‘sprints’ and when the low cost of network effects on the internet mean a service can reach tens of millions within months, can conventional approaches to regulation and consumer protection processes - working to decade-plus revision cycles - really offer effective responses or remain fit for purpose?

Or do institutions charged with consumer protection and data protection and their processes need to evolve too – working in much more agile ways and across the siloes their remits create?

Are there complementary or alternative means for ensuring consumer/data protection that can offer more dynamic responses?   

Self-regulation might be part of the answer, but does it stand a chance of being effective or credible while an ethos of better to ask forgiveness than permission permeates Silicon Valley? 

Or, actually, are the incentives for making self-regulation work in a demonstrable manner significant, given the unintended consequences that well-intentioned, but poorly executed statutory approaches could have on innovation?

A hybrid option might be around “regulated self-regulation” – where government regulators create the conditions in which businesses can demonstrate they are acting in data-respecting ways. The creation of specific ISO standards could support this.

As I outlined in a previous blog, another approach could involve developing tools and services that empower consumers - giving them agency in relation to which data they share, with whom and for what purposes. 

Can the market itself drive change as online privacy and control over how data is used becomes a ‘feature set’ that consumers demand?

Early signs here offer some encouragement – not least as elements of the tech sector either start to realise there is a growing imperative to demonstrate their data-respecting credentials if they are to ward off heavy handed regulation; or realising it makes business sense as they seek to expand to markets, such as health and banking, where data is all the more sensitive.

No doubt the optimal response will draw on elements of all of these options, but getting to that point will require concerted engagement from all working in the consumer interest.

If personal data does, as all the indicators suggest, become the defining issue of the twentieth century, it’s imperative that engagement starts now.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The challenge of regulating new digital services

A new report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on global regulatory developments related to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) reveals a fast-evolving landscape. Sofie Maddens, Head of the Regulatory and Market Environment Division at the ITU, outlines the challenges for regulating these new digital services.

The ITU's new report reveals a world where devices and services proliferate, broadband connectivity becomes increasingly pervasive, and the hyper-connected world of the ‘Internet of Everything’ starts to become a reality. This year alone:  
  • The 'Internet of Everything’ will grow with more than one billion different kinds of wireless devices expected to be sold;
  • Sales of smartphones, particularly low cost units, will reach 1.4 billion, exceeding sales of PCs, TVs, tablets and games consoles combined;  
  • There will be 2.07 billion active social media accounts globally with active social media users spending an average of nearly 2 hours 25 minutes a day on social platforms.
Through rapid technological innovation, consumers are benefiting from the tremendous opportunities offered by ICTs; and are increasingly becoming more connected as digital social consumers, digital communicators and prime agents of change in a digital transformation.  

However this also means that they are being confronted on a daily basis with new issues. Cybersecurity, child online protection and privacy are all high on the list of priorities for national regulators, as well as international and regional bodies active in this field.

Finding the right regulatory solution

Contrary to other sectors such as: telecommunications, energy, postal, financial and audio-visual sectors; no single regulator or authority in one country or region is in charge of supervising or enforcing a set of binding rules on ICT operators. Often many operators in the online ecosystem are still unregulated. 

Although providers remain confident that the benefits of the online world outweigh the potential risks, from the perspective of regulators, the pace of growth and innovation raises major challenges. 

It is also important to ensure policy and regulations do not create unnecessary barriers to new companies entering the market and thus result in missed opportunities for consumers in terms of price reduction and service diversification. 

Sound, swift and flexible regulations are needed to ensure that consumers are protected online, whilst incentives for service and content providers are created. 

Having universal rules to govern online interactions is not always realistic because of the diversity of standards and norms – be they legal, cultural or social. However co- and self-regulation and consumer empowerment could allow for a healthy and respectful virtual space. 

Consumer empowerment

As consumers are the main drivers of the digital transformation, educating and empowering them is essential to improve the online world. 

Consumers can make or break businesses online – through their new powers to search, compare, rank, recommend or even negotiate preferential conditions. 

Consumers have powerful channels to make their voices heard, but regulators also play a role in protecting data and supporting the rule of law for consumers.

Finding a way forward

There are a number of useful guidelines and principles available to support good regulation. The need to create an enabling environment that protects consumers and suppliers was recognised by regulators at ITU's Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR - 15), the world's largest gathering of ICT regulators and policy specialists from the public and private sectors, which was held last month in the Gabonese capital, Libreville. 

In the 2015 Best Practice Guidelines, regulators specifically recognised the importance of:
  • Adopting cross-sectoral regulatory frameworks which address the specificities of mobile services and apps, and provide consumer protection, freedom of choice and the proper exercise of consumer rights;
  • Multi-stakeholder collaboration to ensure that the rights and interests of both consumers and suppliers are protected;
  • Educating and empowering consumers by providing platforms for user-friendly and up-to-date comparisons of service offers and tariffs;
  • Informing consumers about legal provisions and complaint/redress procedures and promoting a culture of cybersecurity; 
  • Ensuring consumers are not bound to a specific mobile service provider or app, and should retain their ability to choose and switch between providers.
Identifying pro-active policy and regulatory measures as well as co-regulatory and self-regulatory initiatives that educate and empower consumers is essential to protect the rights of all users in an open, transparent and inclusive digital world.