Consumers at UNCTAD: Our Dialogue for Action

27 June 2024

False information, widespread political change, budgetary cuts. These are just some of mounting issues facing civil society in 2024 at a time when the role they play is needed more than ever. Next week, Consumers International joins discussions at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) to discuss the role of consumer organisations, the value they bring for fair and equal societies and how governments can best support their growth and benefit from collaboration.

The Consumer Voice at UNCTAD

In our consultative status to UNCTAD, every year Consumers International brings the consumer voice to the sessions of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy. This year’s eighth session is taking place 1st-2nd July 2024.

The IGE is a unique platform within the United Nations dedicated to discussing consumer policy on a global scale, making it an essential forum for our work. This year's agenda is particularly significant as it addresses how governments can best support consumer organisations and enhance the consumer movement – a topic that hasn’t been revisited in five years and one that supports the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer ProtectionThe outcomes of this session are set to influence a subsequent ministerial meeting in 2025, highlighting the importance of our discussions next week.

In the lead up to IGE, we’ve engaged with our members through seminars at our Global Congress, surveys and discussion sessions. We explored the ways they work with government and identified opportunities for improvement. With this information we will share actionable goals with member states next week.

Crucial Role of Consumer Organisations

Consumer organisations are crucial entities that advocate for consumer rights and interests. They monitor cross-border issues, foster international collaboration on complex issues, and gather data to build robust public policies. They give power to consumers through education and encourage action on sustainable consumption. Around the world their collective power helps to preserve fair and competitive markets and ensure a thriving economy.

Our Fair Digital Finance Accelerator (FDFA), for example, has launched 48 initiatives in over 20 nations, influencing 150+ regulators and policymakers. Involving 65 organisations in low- and middle-income countries, the FDFA has awarded 19 sub-grants to consumer advocates in over 10 countries and trained 100,000 consumers, including 10,000 youth. Its Support Hub provides technical assistance, demonstrating the crucial role consumer organisations play in enhancing government efforts and regulatory frameworks.

Another impactful example is the Fair Food Prices initiative. This united associations in over 20 African countries with policymakers to tackle food price issues. We developed a grassroots method for tracking prices at various levels, involving 200 organisations and reaching over 30 million people through media campaigns. This effort led to regulatory responses in Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia, highlighting the impact consumer organisations can have on market transparency and policy reform.

These are just two examples of how collaboration with consumer groups can provide governments with valuable insights and data, helping them to make informed decisions that benefit consumers. Consumer groups are the first to identify emerging trends and issues. By actively ensuring their representation, governments can more swiftly implement real-time solutions.

The Challenges for Consumer Organisations

Our dialogue at the IGE will highlight the shared challenges and similarities in consumer issues across different countries. Despite the benefits they bring, the consumer voice is still not often being heard, and the onus is often on consumer organisations to build engagement with government.  

Consumer groups are in a good position to drive evidence-backed proposals which can address regulatory gaps with well-researched data.

The Challenges for Governments

To help governments better support consumer organisations we also need to acknowledge the numerous challenges they face. Addressing consumer rights issues presents government with obstacles that extend beyond the immediate concerns of consumer protection. They must navigate diverse viewpoints, including those of businesses advocating for economic feasibility. The influence and resources of large corporations often overshadow consumer voices, claiming superior understanding of customer needs. When these viewpoints are in fact complementary, as consumer protection drives sustainable economic growth. This dynamic puts immense pressure on decision-making bodies to strike a balance between protecting consumer rights and fostering a thriving business environment. Achieving fair and effective policies remains a formidable task for governments globally.

We will show how consumer organisations bring a balanced view to government discussions, driving consumer representativeness and the consequent sustainable economic growth.

Engaging with Government to Support Consumers

For years UNCTAD has demonstrated its championship of a participatory approach involving civil society – our conversation typifies that approach, and we are delighted to help shape it. It will offer a unique and pressing moment to build stronger bridges between governments and consumer associations and a robust consumer protection framework. By working together, we can meet the challenges facing consumers today and in the future. This is how we create a safer and more equitable marketplace for everyone.

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