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How consumer protection can help deliver the UN’s new vision of shared prosperity

This week, UN member states are coming together in New York to begin to define a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will replace the UN’s influential Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will be launched in September 2015.

September will also see the final revision of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP), to make them more relevant to consumers in today’s global marketplace.

Consumers International believes a big opportunity will be missed, if we don’t make greater connections between consumer protection and sustainable development.

Despite consumers being at the heart of many of the issues dealt with in the SDGs, there is little or no mention of consumer protection. 

Consumer protection and empowerment should be recognised as central to sustainable development. It ensures that people everywhere are treated fairly and with dignity in the marketplace, and have access to safe and healthy products, and services. This is particularly important for poor and vulnerable people who are often amongst the most exploited.

Consumer protection and empowerment provides a clear means to curb inequalities and to promote fairness, justice and prosperity in an increasingly complex global economy.

To give just three examples of why consumer protection is important to the SDGs:

  • Proposed Goal 2 aims to ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition'. To achieve this, consumers need access to nutritious and affordable food which follows food safety standards.
  • Proposed Goal 3 aims to ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages'. This means that consumers need access to healthcare but also protection against unsafe products and services that cause ill health, injury or death.
  • Proposed Goal 8 calls for ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth'. It is hard to see how this can be achieved unless consumers are represented and empowered to play their part in the economy. 

Similar points can be made in relation to almost every one of the proposed Goals.

The most effective way to make the link between consumer protection and the SDGs, is to make 

implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection one of the targets in the SDGs.

This will provide real practical support for consumer protection:

  • It will raise the profile of consumer protection with international and national organisations and agencies who have not previously seen it as part of their agenda.
  • It will require the international community to measure and report on the implementation of the UN Guidelines on a regular basis.

This is why CI is calling for the UNGCP to be included under the proposed Goal on the ‘means of implementation and global partnership’, with the following truly cross-cutting target:

  • By 2030 ensure all countries have implemented the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection. 

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.

Clearly then, the SDGs’ objectives to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and promote shared prosperity, fundamentally rely on how consumers think and act, and how their opportunities and choices are protected – in the developed and developing world.

CI is looking forward to further engagement on a more inclusive and consumer-focused development agenda throughout this vital year – to help make shared prosperity a reality.