Bringing the consumer voice to UNCTAD

15 July 2022

From 18 – 19 July we will join policy makers and global consumer experts gathering for the Sixth Session of UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy.  

Taking part in global conversations such as these is a key part of our influencing role to ensure that dialogue remains relevant to the needs of consumers and to help shape future agendas. Given the current crises we face in energy, food and cost of living, promoting the consumer voice to the top of global agendas has never been so important. To do this well, we bring in the views, insights, perspectives of our Members to the forefront of discussion.

With this in mind, next week we will be sharing Member experiences from the Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Germany, Mexico and more with the IGE. During a session on product safety, we will use our research and Member experience to outline the need to accelerate and address gaps in protective measures for consumers, and as the Sixth Session looks at other concerns in the consumer movement, such as financial consumer protection we will share insights from our other work.

As products transcend borders, they must be fit for purpose  

E-commerce has become a default option for many consumer purchases worldwide, in 2021 global online transactions were said to have reached $US 4.2 trillion. In purchasing online, most customers believe that shopping is safe and that product safety is enforced as much as in traditional markets. However, it carries great risk for consumers who may not be equipped to evaluate the safety of each individual product. In a survey of our Members across 89 countries in 2019 we found that in 40% of countries there is no product safety agreement between national authorities and online marketplaces.  

On Monday 18 July from 1.30pm – 3pm UTC, we will join, Modalities for the implementation of the recommendation on preventing the cross-border distribution of known unsafe consumer products. Alongside decision makers from Algeria, the US, Argentina and the Competition Commission, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa we will address key questions. What legal and institutional frameworks are needed? How can we improve the ways of recalling unsafe products nationally, regionally, globally? What is UNCTAD’s role in helping its member states to improve product safety frameworks?

We will dive into our 2019 survey, reflecting on findings from our Members such as VZBV, Germany and Which?. Whilst the survey showed there are often legal frameworks in place to lessen product safety risks, they have not always been successful in practice. We will also highlight the need to address certain gaps within the frameworks - these include measures to cover foreseeable misuse (an issue found across 35% of survey respondents) and the need for products to specify suitability for use by children, the elderly or disabled people (found across 32% of respondents).

Determined to rectify the issues found, last year we produced our Online Product Safety Guidelines. Developed with our Members around the world, they build on recommendations for marketplaces, sellers and governments to address gaps and ongoing issues. They are centred on: 

  • Overarching principles of Safety, Responsibility and Information
  • Government actions for national regulation and cross-border co-operation
  • Online marketplace actions based on compliance and accountability, preventing unsafe entry, identifying and removing unsafe products and information
  • Complaints & redress mechanisms – both provided by businesses and mandated by government or through co-regulation
  • Consumer information and education – to ensure consumers can be well informed, safe choices.

We will bring these points to the session, to further cross-border solutions, co-operation and see that legislation is both effectively enforced and covers concerns previously overlooked.  

Throughout the event we will also share our expertise on other agenda topics, including to protect vulnerable consumers across financial services and promote capacity on consumer protection law and policy.  One way we are responding to the risks posed to consumers in financial services is through our Fair Digital Finance Accelerator. This builds a powerful network in an initial 35 countries and a platform for collaborative action, learning and collective influence. Through this, consumer advocates receiving training and the tools they need to enhance knowledge, advocacy approaches and to build bridges with regulators and providers. 

Importantly, effective enforcement of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP), will be a running theme throughout the Sixth Session. As part of our partnership with UNCTAD we have contributed to the Guidelines, to ensure protective measures are put in place for consumers which reflect their essential needs.  

As we meet with policy makers and others we will share more on our ‘Consumer Protection and Empowerment Index’. This unique tool presents a global assessment of how countries have implemented (and pursue) the means to build, maintain and encourage safe, fair and sustainable markets. Worryingly, it has shown us how much work needs to be done – with the average global score for the Index as just 53/100. Over the next year we plan to build on the tool, informed by our discussions and further research to launch a public version of it.  

Presentations and audio recordings are available here.

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