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Our Roots

Consumers International, formerly known as the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU), was started in 1960 by a group of five consumer organisations from the US, Western Europe and Australia. Originally we were established as a global information exchange between the increasing number of consumer product-testing organisations that had sprung up in the post-war boom years. However we quickly established a formidable reputation as an agent for change on the consumer issues of the day.

Building a powerful international movement

 

In 10 short years after we started, we attracted 50 member organisations. Another decade later, we had achieved General Consultative Status at the United Nations (UN) – having helped wage and win major campaigns against transnational companies over issues relating to baby food and pesticides.

Our history has taken us from the US and Europe to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, through Eastern Europe and across Africa. Today, we have more than 200 member organisations in over 100 countries, and we continue to grow.

Our work has evolved to reflect greater involvement in issues ranging from public utilities and food and drug safety, to the environment and credit and debt that affect consumers everywhere.

What has not changed is our commitment to building a powerful international movement to protect and empower all consumers.

Our biggest achievements

Since the 1960s we have pioneered new methods of campaigning, mobilising disparate groups of people on a particular issue and targeting influential figures within government and industry to bring about change. Some of our campaigning achievements include:

UN guidelines on consumer protection

Getting guidelines on consumer protection adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1985 after ten years of campaigning. The Guidelines spell out the main principles of consumer protection globally. Numerous countries have since adopted laws based on this model. The Guidelines were brought fully up to date in 2015, when, following campaigning by Consumers International and our members the UN General Assembly adopted the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection.

International networks

Establishing networks in the 1970s and 80s that achieved positive results for consumers including the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Pesticides Action Network (PAN). As a result we saw the adoption of  the International Code of Marketing on Breast Milk Substitutes by the World Health Organization – the first such code designed to control widespread marketing abuses by baby food companies. We also campaigned against toxic pesticides and unethical marketing practices, successfully preventing the export of banned or restricted pesticides without the consent of governments in importing countries.

World Trade Organisation

Starting work in World Trade Organisation negotiations in 2001 and contributing to the 2015 abolition of export subsidies for agricultural products. This achievement supported consumers by helping to stabilise violent price fluctuations in agricultural products, particularly in developing countries.

International standards

Working on international standards and contributing to setting international benchmarks to guide businesses and governments towards providing and regulating for better services to consumers. The areas covered include water and sanitation, second-hand goods and social responsibility to most recently, mobile payments and energy. The energy standard was the first ISO standard ever to be initiated by an NGO.

G20

Successfully campaigning for the G20 to develop international principles on financial consumer protection and formalise FinCoNet, the international network of regulators for financial consumer protection. We were the first witnesses to give evidence to the G20 task force on consumer protection in financial services. We contributed to the high level principles adopted by G20 ministers in 2011. The principles help guide financial services providers and legislators to protect consumers in their financial affairs.

You can read more about our history and key achievements in our commemorative 50th anniversary booklet (eng), published in 2010.