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AL & Senecon handshakeThe 20th Consumers International World Congress will be held in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil in late October/early November 2015. The agreement to co-host the event with Brazil’s national secretariat for consumers, SENACON, was signed between the two organisations during the CI Council summit held in Brasilia last week.

Amanda Long (on the right), CI Director General says "We are absolutely delighted to be heading to Brazil for CI World Congress next year. Brazil is a vibrant nation in a fantastic position in various aspects of development.  The focus that it shows in driving social participation in developing consumer protection is exciting."

Juliana Pereira da Silva, Secretary of SENACON, says "Being the host of Consumers International World Congress is like being an Olympic host. We feel extremely honoured to know that Brazil has become a reference on the international scene as a country that works for consumer rights."

The CI World Congress is held every four years and marks a seminal moment in the international consumer rights calendar. The event is a platform for CI’s diverse Members to shape the future agenda of global consumer action and inspire multi-national campaigning.

Alongside the formal business of electing a new Council and President, the core aims of the World Congress are for delegates to build cross-border partnerships on consumer rights issues; network with CI Members, government agencies and other stakeholders; and hear from world-renowned speakers on major consumer concerns and emerging trends.

The CI World Congress brings together CI Members and Supporters from all around the globe and attracts leaders from the corporate sector, policy-makers, funding bodies, academics and civil society groups.

Other nations to co-host CI World Congress in recent years have included Hong Kong (2011), Australia (2007) and Portugal (2004). The 2015 Congress will be the twentieth event in CI’s 54 year history.

Details of the theme and precise dates to follow shortly.

CI Member, Consumer Reports (CR) has issued new consumption guidelines in the U.S, based on their analysis of arsenic levels in rice products and other grains.

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The guidelines feature a 'point system', aiming to help adults and children reduce their exposure to arsenic without eliminating rice.

Restricting children’s intake of hot and cold rice cereals, rice pasta and rice drinks, is also recommended.

CR continue to call on the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set standards especially for products children consume most.

The consumption guidelines follow recent data analysis from the FDA and CR’s own testing of arsenic levels, particularly inorganic arsenic (IA).

The tests found that the IA content of rice varies greatly depending on the type and where it is grown.

Basmati rice from India, Pakistan or California and U.S sushi rice, were identified as better choices, with much lower levels of IA; alongside other grains including amaranth, millet and quinoa.

This latest analysis and recommendations comes two years after the organisation released its original report on arsenic in rice in 2012, which found measurable levels of IA in all 60 rice varieties and rice products tested.

“We are very pleased to learn that there are lower arsenic choices when it comes to rice and alternative grains,” Dr Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports said.

“This is great news for consumers who can now use our information to make better decisions for themselves and their families.”

“In the meantime, we continue to call on the FDA to set standards for arsenic in rice-based foods and are particularly concerned about the effects on children.”

Consumer Reports tested 128 samples of basmati, jasmine and sushi rice for arsenic and combined the results with the findings from the 2012 tests, and data from the FDA’s analysis of arsenic rice for a total of 697 samples.

Read the full report: ‘Arsenic in Your Rice: The Latest’ (pdf)

 

Over 320 international experts and civil society groups are calling for a binding treaty to tackle poor diets, in a signed open letter, co-authored by Consumers International. 

See this content in Spanish

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The letter has been sent to the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ahead of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) which will take place in Rome this week. 

CI, alongside the World Obesity Federation and other leading health campaigners and consumer advocates are urging governments to take greater action to address diet-related ill health, using a Global Convention to protect and promote healthy diets. 

CI and World Obesity have drafted recommendations for a Global Convention advising world governments to: 

  • Reduce children's exposure to marketing through regulatory action;
  • Impose compositional limits on the saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food;
  • Bring in fiscal measures to discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods; 
  • Require all trade and investment policies to be addressed for their potential health impacts.

Amanda Long, Consumer International’s Director General said: “Diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are increasing in all regions of the world, most rapidly in developing countries.

“The policy actions that governments can take now will determine whether we can turn on tide on this health crisis. A binding Global Convention offers the best hope of protecting and promoting the health of all consumers.” 

Tim Lobstein, Policy Director for the World Obesity Federation adds: “The rapid expansion of the marketing of highly processed foods is undermining health in much of the developing world.

“Regulatory action to control food markets will require political courage. We should start with a Global Convention which can help Member States, particularly smaller nations, to build a robust defence of public health.”

The letter is co-authored by CI, the World Obesity Federation, the UK Health Forum and consumer groups in Fiji and Mexico, with support of over 320 individuals and organisations. 

CI’s recommendations for a Global Convention to protect and promote healthy diets uses a similar mechanism to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, which has already proved successful in reducing tobacco use. 

Consumers International has launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #JunkFoodWorldCup to draw attention to the way the football World Cup is being used to market unhealthy food. The campaign is part of CI’s call for more global action to tackle unhealthy diets.

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CI is asking people to collect examples of adverts in which pictures of footballers and other images relating to the World Cup are used to advertise food and beverage products that are high in fat, salt or sugar. These examples will then be published on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #JunkFoodWorldCup.

"If children see their favourite footballer advertising crisps or a highly sugared beverage, they will associate that product with sport and with being fit and healthy."

Occasions such as the World Cup can significantly boost sales for the food industry. There could be as much as US$2.3bn spent on World Cup TV advertising globally, according to tentative estimates by media buying agency network Group M. Food and drink companies will account for a lot of this spending. 

There is also expected to be a huge drive to use social media. Twitter has already reported more tweets about the 2014 World Cup before it has started than there were during the whole of the 2010 World Cup. 

Advertisers will be keen to link TV adverts with online activities. Sales of products with advertising linked to the World Cup are likely to see a huge spike. According to the market research firm Nielsen in the first week of the 2010 World Cup, sales of crisps and chocolate rose by 10% and 37% respectively compared with the same week the previous year.

The aim of CI’s campaign is to highlight how the food industry uses international sporting occasions to sell unhealthy food. CI Food programme manager Anna Glayzer said, ”Using footballers and images relating to football to advertise foods high in salt, sugar or fat gives the false impression that these products are healthy".

"The impact that this has on children is particularly worrying as they are more susceptible to advertising messages and imagery.  If children see their favourite footballer advertising crisps or a highly sugared beverage, they will associate that product with sport and with being fit and healthy".

Last month CI published Recommendations towards a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets. 

In it, CI calls for governments to introduce legislation that controls the marketing of unhealthy foods to children by restricting advertising that is likely to create an erroneous impression about a product’s health benefits and other characteristics. 

CI also advocates the prohibition or restriction of the sponsorship of international events by companies and brands associated with unhealthy foods and beverages.

Consumers International and World Obesity Federation are calling on the international community to develop a global convention to fight diet-related ill health, similar to the legal framework for tobacco control.

global obesity report cover

Unhealthy diets now rank above tobacco as a global cause of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The two international membership bodies will officially launch their Recommendations towards a Global Convention to protect and promote healthy diets (pdf) at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The Recommendations call on governments to make a binding commitment to introduce a raft of policy measures designed to help consumers make healthier choices and improve nutrition security for everyone.

Measures include placing stricter controls on food marketing, improving the provision of nutrition information, requiring reformulation of unhealthy food products, raising standards for food provided in public institutions and using economic tools to influence consumption patterns.

Publication of the Recommendations comes on the 10th anniversary of the WHO Global Strategy on Diet and Physical Activity and Health, which recognised the impact of unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

Since then however, global deaths attributable to obesity and overweight have risen from 2.6 million in 2005 to 3.4 million in 2010, thus intensifying the pressure on governments to take stronger action to tackle the rising epidemic of obesity and consequent chronic disease.

Consumers International Director General, Amanda Long says: "The scale of the impact of unhealthy food on consumer health is comparable to the impact of cigarettes. The food and beverage industry has dragged its feet on meaningful change and governments have felt unable or unwilling to act.

"The only answer remaining for the global community is a framework convention and we urge governments to seriously consider our recommendations for achieving that. If they do not, we risk decades of obstruction from industry and a repeat of the catastrophic global health crisis caused by smoking."

World Obesity Federation Director of Policy, Dr Tim Lobstein says: "The global prevalence of obesity - defined as a BMI ≥30 - doubled between 1980 and 2008, to 10% of all men worldwide, and 14% of all women.

"That’s 205 million men and 297 million women - more than half a billion obese people. In terms of numbers, the United States has led the way, but they are closely followed by China, Brazil and Mexico.

"These figures show the scale of the problem to be addressed. If obesity was an infectious disease we would have seen billions of dollars being invested in bringing it under control.

"But because obesity is largely caused by the overconsumption of fatty and sugary foods, we have seen policy-makers unwilling to take on the corporate interests who promote these foods. Governments need to take collective action and a framework convention offers them the chance to do this."

Obesity is a major risk factor for a wide range of non-communicable diseases. Figures show that in 2008, 36 million people died from non-communicable diseases, representing 63 per cent of the 57 million global deaths that year. In 2030, such diseases are projected to claim the lives of 52 million people.

Several organisations are endorsing these recommendations. These are:

 

 

 

demi greene TH

It is with great sadness that Consumers International received the news that Deni Greene passed away on 2 June 2012. Deni was a great consumer advocate, with strong character and a wry sense of humour.

Deni represented the Consumers Federation of Australia over many years, principally on environmental standards. However it was during the development of ISO 26000 that many Consumer International members came to know her in her roles both as project editor and Australian consumer expert. Deni was a vital and committed consumer advocate who was passionate about her work. ISO 26000 was published in November 2010.

The consumer world will miss her very much for her knowledge and experience, but also as a friend.

An obituary can be found on CFA'S website.

An online guest book has also been set up. This is an opportunity to share remembrances and condolences with her family and others outside of standards development.

Friends and colleagues of Deni are establishing an award in her honour and are seeking contributions to the fund to support the award. More details are on Consumers Federation of Australia's website.

nepal

 

If Nepal wants to bolster its nascent consumer movement, it needs to get more information into circulation through consumer education and awareness programmes and set up clear and effective systems for redress to boost consumer confidence.

These were the main findings of Consumers International's (CI) recently-concluded programme of work in the country.

As part of the programme, a national policy conference was held in Kathmandu to look at the country's existing consumer protection infrastructure and make recommendations for its improvement.

The overriding themes for improvement which came out of the conference were: information creation and dissemination, establishment of consumer courts and enforcement of clear protection laws.

The conference concluded that a strong consumer protection policy should be created and then disseminated via a national information system to raise awareness of rights and responsibilities among consumers, business and government.

It also concluded that separate national monitoring and investigating systems should be established, along with a separate court for consumer cases.

Following the conclusion of the programme of work, CI published Understanding Provisions of Consumer Protection in Nepal (pdf) with a set of specific recommendations for the further strengthening of Nepal's consumer protection infrastructure. Chief among these were:

  • Establish fast track courts for consumer complaints
  • Provide inspection officers with sub-judicial rights for on-the-spot punishment of wrongdoers
  • Establish consumer complaint mechanism for each individual sector
  • Strengthen the Consumer Protection Council with increased representation from  the consumer movement
  • Standardise consumer products
  • Establish consumer laboratories for effective testing of products
  • Establish a collaborative consumer information centre to raise awareness of consumer rights

CI published the booklets in Nepali and English and they were disseminated to consumer organisations, government agencies, institutions and schools to highlight consumer rights.

The programme was run through CI's regional office in Kuala Lumpur under the auspices of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization through the EC-Nepal WTO Assistance Programme towards "making the consumer movement a viable market force" from September 2011 until March 2012.

 

Don't miss... 19 April, 17.30 GMT: CI President Jim Guest will be online with World Bank Live to take questions on financial consumer protection

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CI President Jim Guest is to meet exclusively with the chair of the G20 finance ministers today, ahead of their meeting in Washington.

 

Jim Guest, who is also CEO of CI member Consumer Reports, will also be highlighting the crucial role of consumer groups in financial protection at a related World Bank/G20 event: 'Financial inclusion: From principles to action'.

 

In line with CI's recommendations to the G20, Jim Guest will be making the case for strong regulatory oversight to ensure that financial products and services are safe, fair and appropriate.

 

CI's meeting with Dr Jose Antonio Meade, the Mexican finance minister, who will chair the meeting of the G20 finance ministers now that the G20 presidency has switched from France to Mexico, comes at a crucial time for CI's advocacy work. Many of our demands for better financial consumer protection are up for discussion.

 

The G20 finance ministers will be considering the Mexican presidency's priorities on financial services that include financial inclusion, financial education and financial consumer protection.

 

On financial consumer protection, the G20 finance ministers will be asked to approve two main streams of work.

 

First will be the development of a set of guidelines for the implementation of the OECD high level principles on financial consumer protection that were adopted by the G20 last year.

 

Second, they will be asked to support the creation of a new international organisation for national financial supervisors. This will be built on an existing loose network of financial supervisors called FinCoNet.

 

The formalisation of FinCoNet will fulfil one of the recommendations made by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) in their report to the G20 last year. It will also create an institution that can carry forward the other recommendations made by the FSB.

 

On the CI blog: Read expert analysis from CI's Head of Campaigns, Justin Macmullan, on the potential outcomes of the G20 meetings in Washington.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal lent his support to the global consumer movement recently by calling for better consumer protection against unfair corporate practices and proposing a "ninth" consumer right to privacy in a televised address to the American Senate.

senator blumenthalThe first such formal statement on consumer rights  by a senior politician was exactly 50 years ago, when on 15 March 1962 US President John F. Kennedy noted that we are all consumers and that we comprise the largest economic group "affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision."

Blumenthal's address on World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) echoed JFK's  and found resonance in this year's WCRD theme: 'Our money, our rights: Campaigning for real choice in financial services'.

In his address, Blumenthal shared his passion for giving consumers a voice to confront corporations engaged in  "deceptive and dangerous or abusive practices".

Acknowledging the contribution that the work of CI and its members make to "encourage consumers to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions for themselves in the marketplace", Blumenthal highlighted the global relevance of many consumer issues , particularly in relation to the current global financial crisis, as well as emerging issues around privacy in the digital age.

Blumenthal proposed a ninth right - the right to personal privacy - to the 8 consumer rights currently recognised by the global consumer movement.

According to the Connecticut senator, the digital age has brought with it a number of new challenges for consumers. One issue of growing concern is the security of personal information. Policy makers and the public alike are increasingly alarmed by the staggering scale of intrusion into private lives - whether by governments or companies - which is made possible by new technologies.

Blumenthal  questioned , "why would it be okay for a company like OnStart to track drivers who cancelled their subscription and sell that information on their movements to marketeers?", when in fact "the Supreme Court has just ruled that it's not okay for the government to track people via GPS in their car without a warrant".

Blumenthal's address was broadcast live on Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), the US television channel that provides running coverage of government proceedings and other public policy events.

Watch the senate session featuring Richard Blumenthal's address on WCRD here.

Thursday 15 March is World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) 2012! This year's theme is Our money, our rights: campaigning for real choice in financial services, and the global consumer movement is highlighting this issue all over the world.


The right to choose

This is a basic consumer right that is continuously undermined when it comes to financial services. Consumers all over the world are getting a raw deal, but often find it difficult to shop around for a better option.

Without a strong incentive to offer more choice and better service, banks and other financial institutions are not competing with each other to offer better value.

In turn, consumers find it difficult to move their money and are trapped in bad deals. This problem applies to all sorts of financial products and services - from bank accounts to global money transfers - and it repeated the world over.  It's clear that more needs to be done to promote choice and competition in financial services.

 

Consumer rights: 50 years on

15 March 2012 is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's statement on consumer rights - he was the first ever leader to define what consumer rights should mean.

 

What is happening around the world?

CI's member organisations across the world are taking action to call for meaningful choice for consumers - whether it's switching banks, buying insurance or transferring money overseas.

  • See what consumer rights groups are doing for World Consumer Rights Day on our global activity map

 

Join the conversation

  • Join the discussion on our Facebook site
  • Follow on twitter with #WCRD2012

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of US and EU consumer advocacy groups coordinated by Consumers International has sent a letter to the head of Google calling on the search giant to suspend its controversial changes to its privacy policy.


The changes, which take effect across the world from 1 March, will allow Google to monitor signed-in users across a wide array of its products, including its search engine, YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.

 

The TACD letter asks Google CEO Larry Page to "suspend your March 1 plan to modify the terms of services for users of Google services… [as] It is both unfair and unwise for you to 'change the terms of the bargain' as you propose to do."

 

The letter goes on to outline TACD's concerns: "you propose to combine data from all of your services, provided by your users in very different contexts and for very different reasons, into a single profile without user consent and without any meaningful opportunity for users to opt-out."

 

Consumer rights groups across the world have expressed concern about Google's privacy change, which many see as another step in the continuing erosion of privacy in the digital age.

 

Consumers International programme on Consumer Rights and Representation is calling for the modern challenges to privacy and access to be fully reflected in the UN Guidelines to Consumer Protection. The UN Guidelines have not seen any change in this area since their adoption in 1985, 10 years before mainstream take up the Internet, and 13 years before the launch of Google.

World Banana Forum logo THThe second World Banana Forum is taking place on 28 - 29 February in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Altroconsumo, Italy is representing Consumers International (CI) at the forum to share the work that a number of CI members are doing on sustainability in supply chains.

The World Banana Forum brings together stakeholders in the banana supply chain including producers, trade union, co-operatives, exporter groups, fresh produce companies, retailers, governments and civil society organisations. The aim is to arrive at a shared vision of a 'sustainable banana value chain for present and future generations'.

Altroconsumo's Eliana Guarnoni is attending the forum on behalf of CI and sister organisations International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT) to take part in the discussions and to bring the perspective of consumer organisations to the debate. Many CI member organisations regularly investigate the conditions in supply chains in order to provide this information to consumers.

Eliana will also be taking part in the Global Meeting of Women Banana Workers which takes place on 24 and 25 February, as well as visiting plantations in Ecuador. Follow her progress on CI's Twitter and Facebook pages.

Making the link with retailers

A leading representative of civil society at the forum is Banana Link, an organisation with a rich history in working to improve working conditions in the banana supply chain. As part of the Make Fruit Fair coalition, they are campaigning to address the power imbalance between big retailers and producers - a key structural issue that puts the conditions of workers in countries like Ecuador under great pressure. Make Fruit Fair have launched a petition calling on the EU to regulate and stop supermarkets abusing their power.

The Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce of Jamaica has endorsed several key elements of a draft banking code for the Caribbean, following long term discussions with Consumers International. The final code would be a groundbreaking win for consumers, bringing greater clarity and plain language to banking fees, contract terms and service standards.


The Honourable Anthony Hylton has invited all stakeholders to work together to develop a progressive code, which would embody international best practices and be acceptable to the banking sector and consumers alike.


Catalyst for a new banking code

Addressing a consultation on the draft banking code at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston, on 19 January 2012, the Minister reflected on the 2010 Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) survey of bank charges and observed that the findings provided the "catalyst for the development of the proposed banking code."


Financial services in the Caribbean

Consumer Protection in the Caribbean

The development of the code is part of the 'Promotion of Consumer Protection in the Caribbean' project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which involves Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. It is a key step in the ongoing work on financial services in the Caribbean region by Consumers International.

Regional Project Coordinator, Consumer International, Candice Ramessar, emphasised that the draft code is not an attempt to coerce the banking sector, but rather to encourage them to adopt practices and principles that are in the best interest of the banks as well as their customers.


The code

The draft code contains 11 key commitments, which include providing clarity on:

  • non-discriminatory access
  • service standards
  • product information
  • credit information
  • variation in fees and charges
  • provisions for elderly
  • disabled and pregnant consumers,
  • and dispute resolution.


Highlights of the code

Among the key commitments of the draft code is a requirement that banks should display service standards at their branches and on their websites, as well as make copies available on request.

Terms and conditions of contracts should be fair and should set out both parties' rights and responsibilities in plain and simple language, while legal and technical terms should only be used if necessary.

The code also states that banks will provide notification of changes in fees and charges at least 60 days before they are to take effect. ATMs are to display all fees associated with each transaction prior to the completion of the transactions.

Financial counsellorOur DfID-funded project is already showing fantastic results

Consumers International is pioneering free financial education counselling for poor communities in East Africa with a mix of photocopied materials and youtube.

The initiative, which has helped set up financial counselling services in slum and rural communities in Kenya and Tanzania, has already seen a 125 per cent rise in the number of people sticking to budgets and a 50 per cent fall in those skipping loan repayments.

The project is focused around a free-to-use financial counsellor's handbook, designed to be printed-out and photocopied by consumer groups wanting to set up counselling services.

As an introduction to the project, CI has produced a short film explaining how to use the handbook effectively.

Launched on youtube, the aim of the film is to demonstrate the ease with which financial counselling can get off the ground, the legacy of the project within the community, and the remarkable results of this straight-forward approach.

 

 

Download the Counsellor's Handbook
Blog - Small scale financial education making a big difference
See the project results data
More on the project's background

New proposals to be put to the G20 for improving financial consumer protection do not go far enough, Consumers International believes.

The draft international principles on financial consumer protection, drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and now out for public consultation, were requested by G20 finance ministers.  This follows Consumers International's call to the G20 for international action to enhance consumer protection in financial services as part of the Consumers for Fair Financial Services campaign.

However, the current draft principles raise serious concerns for the consumer movement:

  • Overall the draft does not demonstrate the commitment needed to address consumers' concerns about financial consumer protection. Too often the principles are undermined by language such as 'voluntary', 'non binding' and 'as appropriate.'

  • CI is very concerned that the draft does not recommend that consumers' assets such as bank deposits should be guaranteed. Deposit guarantee schemes are a protection for all actors, not only consumers. Systemic stability is also protected by such guarantees, which dissuade consumers from making panic withdrawals from their banks.

  • There should be a clear reference to the right of regulatory authorities to require that products have to conform to certain standards in order to be released onto the market, or to continue to be marketed.
  • Finally, CI urges governments to support the development of an international organisation for promoting financial consumer protection. The existing international network of financial consumer protection organisations, FinCoNet, should be given the political support and resources to play a more effective role at the global level.

As part of the public consultation CI member organisations around the world are writing to their finance ministers and directly to the OECD with this response, as well as submitting examples from their own country of the consequences of failures in financial consumer protection.

Members of the public can also comment directly on the proposals. Details of how to do this can be found on the OECD's public consultation page.

Find CI's summary response below, and, together with other position papers, on the Resources page in the Consumers For Fair Financial Services section.

Civil society has reacted with dismay and disappointment as the 19th session of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development ended without agreement in New York in the early hours of 14 May.

CI was heavily involved in the negotiations at CSD-19, as member states came together for one of the final UN discussions on sustainability before the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012.

CSD-19 was a crucial meeting for the future of sustainable development, with member states, civil society organizations and related UN agencies working on the issues of transport, chemicals, waste management, mining and - of great interest to the consumer movement - the 10 year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production.

Unfortunately, at the very end of these negotiations (Friday 13th), with many of the thematic policy recommendations already agreed - the policy text for the 10-year framework of programmes among them- member states were not able to achieve a final consensus regarding a particular issue and this policy cycle ended with no substantive results.

This lack of consensus among governments and the consequent failure of CSD 19 becomes a complicated precedent for the negotiations of the Rio+20 earth summit and it certainly represents a bad sign for civil society organisations working for many years on this issue - CI among them - because it generates a significant gap in the process towards the achievement of the required global, regional and national policies, measures and actions to address the current patterns of production and consumption in a more sustainable manner.

For a detailed analysis of CSD-19, and the possible implications of its failure, download the IISD's Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Not enough 'brain power' spent on consumers during financial crisis - French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde tells CI World Congress. 

Minister Lagard addresses consumer leaders from more than 60 countries gathered in Hong Kong to consider the global challenge of financial consumer protection.

In a video address to the Consumers International (CI) World Congress in Hong Kong, Christine Lagarde French Minister of Economic Affairs and chair of the G20 finance ministers in 2011 said:

"It is my personal belief that on the occasion of the [financial] crisis we didn't spend a lot of time, nor a lot of brain power on consumers", going on to say, "consumers were the victims on many occasions and in many instances".

Madame Lagarde also said "It is only fair that consumers are part of the process of rebuilding trust and rebuilding regulation and making sure that the same situation does not happen again."

Follow all the news on Consumers International World Congress here.

In an open letter released today, the heads of consumer organisations in eighteen G20 countries called on their finance ministers to ensure that the rapid increase in international attention given to financial consumer protection leads to 'a comprehensive solution and tangible benefits for consumers.'

With G20 finance ministers meeting this weekend in Washington, the letter calls for G20 finance ministers to use their influence to ensure the opportunity presented by so much international attention is not squandered.

The letter notes that in just six months the issue has been forced on to the agenda for G20 leaders' and G20 finance ministers. At the same time the World Bank is consulting on a new set of guidelines on the issue, and more than fifty government financial consumer protection agencies are meeting in May to discuss strengthening future collaboration.

The consumer organisations are all members of Consumers International (CI), and have helped develop our set of recommendations for global action on financial services.

Safe, fair and competitive markets in financial services. Recommendations to the G20 on options to enhance consumer protection in financial services, cover consumer protection for financial transactions, the structure and functions of national financial consumer protection agencies, redress systems, the promotion of competition in the sector, and the safety of consumers' deposits and investments. The recommendations also call for an international organisation to be established to support national bodies and review implementation.

Consumer organisations from around the world will be meeting in Hong Kong from 3-5 May for the CI World Congress with financial consumer protection high on the agenda. Speakers include the director of the World Bank's global programme on consumer protection and financial literacy and consumer organisations in the United States, China, the Netherlands, South Africa and Malaysia.

Full list of signatories:

Samuel Ocheing
President, Consumers International

James A. Guest
President & CEO, Consumers Union of United States, Inc.
UNITED STATES

Beatriz Garcia Buitrago
President, Consumidores Argentinos
ARGENTINA

Nick Stace
Chief Executive, Choice
AUSTRALIA

Lisa Gunn
Executive Co-ordinator, Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor
BRAZIL

Michael Janigan
Executive Director, Public Interest Advocacy Center
CANADA

Monique Goyens
Director General, BEUC The European Consumers Organisation
EUROPEAN UNION

Alain Bazot
President, UFC-QUE Choisir?
FRANCE

Gerd Billen
Executive Director,  Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband
GERMANY

Connie Lau
Chief Executive, Consumer Council of Hong Kong
HONG KONG, CHINA

Pradeep S Mehta
Secretary General, CUTS International
INDIA

Sudaryatmo, SH
Chairman, Yayasan Lembaga Konsumen
INDONESIA

Luisa Crisigiovanni
Director, Altroconsumo
ITALY

Alejandro Calvillo Unna
Executive Director, El Poder del Consumidor
MEXICO

Mr Dmitriy Yanin
Director of the Confederation of Consumer Associations of Russia
RUSSIA

Thami Bolani
Chairman, National Consumer Forum
SOUTH AFRICA

Jaiok, Kim
President, Consumers Korea
SOUTH KOREA

Ali ÇETİN
Vice-President, Tüketici Dernekleri Federasyonu
TURKEY

Peter Vicary-Smith
Chief Executive, Which?
UNITED KINGDOM

 

Costa Rican NGO National Front of Sectors Affected by the Pineapple Industry (FRENASAPP), called for a moratorium on further expansion of pineapple production in a public statement released yesterday.

Referring to CI's investigative film about the pineapple trade, FRENASAPP said it based its demand on a "series of stories circulating in Europe and the campaign in the European market against the commercialisation of pineapples in Costa Rica, initiated by the prestigious NGO Consumers International [as well as] a series of unpunished damages by pineapple companies".

The communiqué notes that intensive pineapple production has led to numerous environmental impacts including pollution of groundwater and surface water, draining of wetlands, destruction of forests, sedimentation of rivers, soil erosion, and infestations.

Workers rights violations

FRENASAPP's communiqué stresses "the serious violation of rights of workers," including the right to occupational health, to work in decent conditions, and to earn a living wage.

Environmental consequences violate human rights, "since the right to life is based on fundamental necessities such as the right to health and a healthy environment, to water, to food, and to adequate housing- all of which are being violated".

Furthermore, the communiqué states that "pineapple industry activity essentially benefits transnational companies and their national partners, deepens external dependency, promotes land concentration and undermines food sovereignty… at the expense of decent living communities, particularly the rural poor".

 

FRENASAPP is formed of local groups and communities affected by the pineapple producing regions of Brunca, the Atlantic Huetar and Huetar Norte. The group also has the support of organisations such as Forum Emaus Cedarena Ditsö, environmentalist groups, Asadas Association, development associations and several NGOs and civil society organisations.

CI urgently wants to see the needs of everyday consumers of financial services pushed to the top of the agenda at this week's G20 summit.  Consumer organisations from 30 countries, including the G20 countries, have signed an open letter pressing the summit attendees to ensure that the worldwide financial crisis is never repeated. The letter below has also been translated into French.


Dear Sir,

As world leaders gather for tomorrow's G20 summit, Consumers International, which represents 220 consumer organisations in 115 countries, is urgently calling for the needs of everyday consumers of financial services to be pushed to the top of the agenda.

Poor financial consumer protection - as exemplified by US sub-prime mortgages - was a key catalyst for the financial crisis. The interconnected nature of global banking then spread the crisis rapidly from country to country, threatening livelihoods, savings and social stability. People around the world will live with the consequences for years to come.

For many consumer organisations the financial crisis highlighted what is an ongoing emergency in financial services. Consumers International's members in large and small, rich and poor countries are dealing with complaints about financial products and services every day.  And each year the global economy creates up to 150 million new consumers of financial services, many of whom are in countries where consumer protection and financial literacy are woefully inadequate.

Last month, the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors issued a statement detailing the progress they have made in finding 'policies conducive to reducing excessive imbalances and maintaining current account imbalances at sustainable levels'.  This is, of course, important but once again there is barely a mention of the consumer - a crucial element that remains conspicuous by its absence from these international discussions.

The global nature of banking means that countries around the world are now facing the same challenges - it is common sense that they work together to develop solutions. We need a commitment from the most powerful nations in the world to protect "real people" from abusive financial services industry practices.

CI urgently wants to see the establishment of an Experts Group on Consumer Financial Protection which would report to the G20 summit in 2011.  This would be a first step to ensuring that consumers from both developed and developing nations have access to stable, fair and competitive financial services.

Getting this right is not only vital to consumers, but also to the ongoing stability of the world economy.

Yours faithfully,

Samuel Ochieng, President, Consumers International and Chief Executive, CIN, KENYA

James A Guest, Vice President, Consumers International and President and CEO, Consumers Union of U.S. Inc, U.S

Consumer organisations in G20 countries

Ricardo Nasio, President, PROCONSUMER, ARGENTINA

Beatriz Garcia Buitrago, President, Consumidores Argentinos, ARGENTINA

Nick Stace, Chief Executive, Choice, AUSTRALIA

Lisa Gunn, Executive Co-ordinator, IDEC, BRAZIL

Maria Ines Dolc, Institutional Coordinator, Proteste, BRAZIL

Michel Arnold, Executive Director, Option Consommateurs, CANADA

John Lawford, Counsel, PIAC, CANADA

Connie Lau, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Consumer Council, CHINA

Monique Goyens, Director General, BEUC - The European Consumers Organisation, EUROPEAN UNION

Reine-Claude Mader, President, CLCV, FRANCE

Alain Bazot, President, UFC-QUE Choisir?, FRANCE

Gerd Billen, President, Federation of German Consumer Organisations, GERMANY

Pradeep S Mehta, CUTS International, INDIA

Nirmala Desikan, Trustee, Consumers Association of INDIA

Sudaryatmo, SH, Charirman, Yayasan Lembarga Konsumen, INDONESIA

Luisa Crisigiovanni, Director of Altroconsuomo, ITALY

Maite Cortes Garcia Lozano, Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco, MEXICO

Alejandro Calvillo Unna, Executive Director, El Poder del Consumidor, MEXICO

Petr Shelisch, Chairman of the Consumers Union of RUSSIA

Mr Dmitriy Yanin, Director of the Confederation of Consumer Associations of RUSSIA

Dr. Mohammad A. Al Hamad, Chairman of the Executive Board, President of the Consumer Protection Association, SAUDI ARABIA

Thami Bolani, Chairman, National Consumer Forum, SOUTH AFRICA

Jaiok Kim, President, Consumers Korea, SOUTH KOREA

Ali Cetin, President, Federation of Consumer Organisations, TURKEY

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive, Which? UK

Non-G20 countries invited to attend the summit

John Kapito, Executive Director, Consumers Association of MALAWI

Francisco Sanchez Legran, President, FACUA - Consumers in Action, SPAIN

Jose Maria Mugica Flores, Director General, OCU, SPAIN

Ana Isabel Ceballo Sierra, President, Asociación General de Consumidores, ASGECO Confederación, SPAIN

Do Gia Phan, Vice President, Vietnam Standard and Consumers Association, VIETNAM

Demanding more from our leaders on financial consumer protection.

Consumers everywhere need access to stable, fair and competitive financial services. They have had to put up with abusive practices for too long and the recent global recession has not improved matters.With its members around the world, CI has launched Consumers for Fair Financial Services - a new campaign to address this crucial issue.

Despite making commitments at recent summits in Pittsburgh and Toronto, financial consumer protection has remained neglected by the G20. But getting this right is not only vital to consumers, but also to the stability of the world economy.

This is why the consumer movement is calling on G20 leaders to set up a new Experts Group on financial consumer protection at the their next summit in Seoul, South Korea on 11 to 12 November 2010. The Experts Group should be tasked with reporting to the G20 summit in 2011, with strong recommendations on protecting consumers of financial services.

To find out more download CI's full campaign call below:

The United Kingdom's Future of Banking Commission has today delivered its findings to the UK Government, calling for profound reform of the banking system.

The United Kingdom's Future of Banking Commission has today delivered its findings to the UK Government, calling for profound reform of the banking system. The Commission, which was set up by CI's UK member Which?, is a cross-party body looking to increase consumer input into financial services reform.

Read more...

See also... Consumer solutions to the financial fix, Our Money, Our Rights! - World Consumer Rights Day 2010

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