The role of consumer advocacy at Davos 2022
This Sunday 22 May – Thursday 26 May world leaders will convene for Davos 2022 to discuss the most critical issues of our time in the fight to address climate, conflict, energy, health and cost of living crises. Within these discussions the World Economic Forum (WEF) has emphasised themes of multistakeholder collaboration and restoring trust – valuable areas to consumer advocacy.
Leaders from business and government need consumers to take action to meet the global issues we face, but first consumers need to feel protected and empowered. Below we provide a snapshot of the key themes explored at Davos to explain this further. Not only that but these examples from our work and that of our Members highlight the invaluable bridge building role that consumer advocacy groups play between business, government and consumers.
For each day at Davos, we will keep you informed of our activity there and share key moments and commitments made at the event relating to these areas. Keep an eye on this page as we do so!
THE TOP ISSUES
CONSUMER PROTECTION IS KEY FOR TRUST
WEF opened this year with a call for restored trust, yet in the field of consumer protection and empowerment we have seen increasing examples around the world of where consumers are losing faith in companies and governments to put and safeguard their needs and rights first.
Our latest insight tool - which we call the Consumer Protection and Empowerment Index - demonstrates the gaps and where we might build trust for and with consumers worldwide. The Index is unique, for this first time it 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, its findings and move to launch a public version of it.
At Davos 2022 we will be discussing the solutions to the initial results we found from the Index as we speak to decision makers in government and give a snapshot of the results in the sessions we will be joining. Our discussions will pinpoint the priority areas we need to focus on across five core areas assessed by the Index. Read more about these areas in our latest blog published by the WEF for Davos 2022.
Leaders are understanding the major impact consumers can have in averting the climate crisis. The International Energy Agency has estimated that 55% of emission reductions will be driven by consumer choices and behavioural changes are said to provide another 8% of the reduction. Consumers need to be supported to take necessary action, and principles of protection and empowerment are central to this.
You can read more about our position and its justification in our Davos 2022 blog – the same position we, with our Members, have and will be taking to international fora such as COP26 and COP27 in Egypt later this year. In Davos, we will be contributing to leadership climate discussions and those which promote better sustainability practice in business so that as with COP26 we ensure participants clearly hear the voice of consumers and develop a more inclusive roadmap to Net Zero. Examples of our successes in sustainable consumption can be found here and as the themes below show, it cuts across several of these.
Tune into the Davos session Climate Action Starts at Home on Wednesday 25 May, 08.30 – 09.15am UTC. In the week following Davos, we welcome you to our participatory session at Stockholm+50, A digital, green, consumer-powered recovery? Thursday 02 June, 09.00 – 10.30 UTC.
With the energy crisis well upon us, many are looking at our bills in horror. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has catalysed costs, gas prices increased in Europe by 600% in early 2022. With consequences felt everywhere and influencing geopolitical and climate crises discussion, talk on a clean energy transition is front and centre of the Davos 2022 agenda.
Despite the opportunities a speedy transition could provide for the environment, there is potential for this to be ‘unjust’ and to cause short-term harm for consumers if not managed properly. If this happens it likely to have a reverse impact on shifting energy consumption in the right direction.
Our achievements in this area have included lobbying for the inclusion of ‘universal access to clean energy’ in the 2015 revision of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection and seeing a ground-breaking standard on access to energy services adopted by the International Organization for Standardization8. The Standard set a new precedent, moving away from a seller-to-buyer relationship between energy companies and consumer, to one of advisor-to-user.
Our Members run an impressive range of activities on energy – from establishing a renewable energy collective in the Netherlands, to delivering consumer education programmes on clean-cooking in Zimbabwe, to bringing the consumer voice to a government workgroup on coal reduction in Chile. In 2022 we will be mobilising our network of Members and our international stakeholders to advocate for a fast, fair and accountable energy transition.
- Contact us at Davos to hear more about consumer advocacy solutions in the energy transition.
Around 2.5 billion people worldwide participate in some way on the platforms which make up the virtual economy. Whilst these technologies provide many new opportunities for consumers, there are significant risks and harms we need to address. In some contexts, the rise of the virtual economy has excluded more consumers from access to essential services such as health and finance, particularly in low-income economies. As platforms often go unregulated online scams and unreliable claims have become commonplace and a host of issues have arisen as more people shop across borders (as our Ecommerce section explains).
The World Economic Forum has been ahead of the curve in recognising the value and risks associated with rising innovation, and key session this May at Davos continue to stress a solutions-focussed approach to our dependence on digital infrastructure and growing cybersecurity risks. As attention is drawn to the issues, we will be joining leading civil society organisations in a call against unchecked surveillance technology linked to human rights abuses around the world.
Our ongoing work on digital rights focusses on promoting consumer inclusion, a sustainable circular economy, and helping to see consumers play an active role in the governance of technology, shaping standard setting and regulation. We recently joined forces with the World Economic Forum’s Future of the Connected World and influential hacker and industry groups representing over 400 organisations to build consensus on the security of consumer Internet of Things devices. We were also invited to participate in the Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), an initiative of the G7 which now incorporates 22 countries and focuses on responsible AI, data governance and innovation.
Our Members are raising awareness and generating drive behind campaigns on digital rights such as Consumer Reports (USA) who have established a Digital Lab to solve technology harms, Which? (UK) whose current campaign promotes better internet access and the Norwegian Consumer Council who are looking to ban surveillance-based advertising.
Did you know that over two billion people will purchase goods or services online this year? The rise of online retail, sharing platforms and digital content subscriptions have fundamentally transformed the way we shop. Whilst this provides opportunities, such as ease of purchasing many harms have emerged. For example, as more transactions occur across borders consumers have less access to redress. Boundaries between consumers and businesses have also become blurred as consumers play a more participatory role in product promotion and development.
We address the major concerns in Ecommerce. We work to improve online product safety, transparent guidance for online reviews, better information provided to consumers before they make a purchase, fair personalised pricing and practices which empower consumers to make sustainable purchases.
Some of our Members’ feats and impactful campaigns in Ecommerce include:
- CHOICE, FOMCA, Which?, VZBV, and BEUC successfully advocating in WHO negotiations, which helped to establish principles that can enhance consumer trust in online transactions.
- IDEC (Brasil), who periodically inform consumers about their rights when buying online and give tips on how to identify bad actors in the online environment.
- CUTS (India) who analysed the impact of the digital economy in the country in the last five years, and assessed the benefits and costs for Indian consumers.
- Choice (Australia) who has campaigned for safer products, both online and offline, and warned consumer on counterfeit products that can be found in marketplaces.
Davos will be shining a light on these areas with its sessions on better cross-border data flows, privacy imperatives and more. On Tuesday 24 May, 3.30 – 4.15pm UTC we will share our expertise on consumer-centred Ecommerce during a panel entitled, Human-Centred Trade. You can also read more on the need for greater redress mechanisms across borders in our Davos blog here.
World food prices jumped nearly 13% in March alone. In the food court at Davos, leaders will home in on price escalation, how to avoid a global food crisis and build resilience in the global food system.
We have been working closely with the UN Global Crisis Response Group on this issue, advocating for urgent action from government and business alike to protect vulnerable consumers. This year we are partnering with Food and Agricultural Organization to host multistakeholder dialogues in Kenya, Ecuador, and Indonesia, in order to drive progress towards commitments made at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.
Food is a top priority across our Members and spans a wide range of issues and actions. Examples include:
- El Poder del Consumidor in Mexico who recently launched a campaign on the impact of ultra-processed foods on both consumer and planetary health
- Rwanda Consumer Rights Protection Organization (ADECOR) who are supporting the implementation of fortification standards that will strengthen access to nutritious food
- Mumbai Grahak Panchayat in India who continues to operate a collective buying system that distributes food to many thousands of families.
In participatory dialogue sessions at Davos, we will focus on how to strengthen systems and as well as the double dividend of promoting food choices to consumers that are both sustainable and healthy. Contact us to find out more and how you can be involved.
Fair Digital Finance In All Contexts
The share of adults in low- and middle-income countries using digital payments increased from 32% to 44% from 2014 to 2017. As digital financial services grow across all contexts, in these economies worrying concerns include data misuse, fraud and over indebtedness. For example, in Brazil, our Member IDEC found that a professor was so highly indebted he committed 120% of his income to loan repayments for four years.
Our research has shown that consumer associations are valuable actors in creating a fair digital finance marketplace. However, given the complexity of the regulatory framework and a scarcity of specialised skills, many organisations in low- and middle-income countries struggle to build sustainable impact.
We are responding to this challenge through the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator (FDFA) which 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.
The Davos 2022 agenda looks at an inclusive approach to building economies and tackling issues in low- and middle- income settings, but more focus is needed on the issue of fair digital finance. We will be sharing news on our new Accelerator to help influence the stakeholders we need to reach and to broaden the other ways the network will provide a better future for consumers.