SUPPORTING PEOPLE THROUGH THE COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS
The soaring cost of food and energy is affecting people across the world, pushing 71 million in developing countries into poverty. As we face the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, Consumers International brings its experience and that of its Members to help. Our global programmes on food, energy and finance address the root causes of the crisis.
Sharing the lived consumer experience and bringing consumer rights to the UN Global Crisis Response Group
We bring consumer concerns and harms directly to global discussion. In partnership with UNCTAD, FAO, WTO, G20 engagement groups and many others, we present the most concerning issues affecting vulnerable consumers. For example, at the Fifth Session of UNCTAD’s IGE we called for action to protect disadvantaged consumers in public utilities.
This year we were invited to join the United Nations Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, providing expert consumer insight to leading experts and world leaders.
In July 2022, we asked our Members to relay the scale of the crisis in their countries. Of the 65 responses received, the results have been worrying:
- Food prices pose a significant concern - all 65 respondents reported that food prices had increased since the start of the year. Of those, 38% reported that prices had increased by more than 50% - an unbearable rise for most households.
- 53% of respondents shared that consumers in their countries are either skipping meals or eating less due to rising prices.
- In energy use, 81.3% reported that consumers are adjusting their budgets so they can pay their energy bills.
These Member insights also showed that consumer advocates are urgently calling upon governments to act, pushing for a range of initiatives and policy proposals that will relieve pressure on vulnerable consumers and reaffirm international collaboration within supply chains. In prioritising key areas of government support:
- 78% of Members called for support to sustainable agriculture
- 68% for support to sustainable energy production; and
- 56% for direct support to the most vulnerable.
With this information, we will identify where the need for emergency support is greatest, help provide urgent, tailored protections for the most vulnerable, and build a more resilient global economy which enhances international cooperation.
Securing affordable, accessible and nutritious food for all
The crisis has made clear that we urgently need to secure access to affordable, sustainable and healthy food for people across the world. In 2021, we led a consumer call for action on food at the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). The call advocated for ‘people-centred solutions’ to food systems transformation and emphasised the need for cross-cutting solutions to the interconnected challenges of food security, safety, sustainability and nutrition. At the Summit, more than 100 countries produced national food systems transformation pathways, and identified the actions needed to achieve these objectives.
One year on, we have been assessing the progress made since the UNFSS. Our project considers the significant shift in context seen in 2022 and addresses concerns that global conflict, economic instability and food insecurity will turn attention away from food systems transformation and exclusively towards crisis management. By highlighting the voices of Consumers International Members, we are calling for clear and specific commitments to safety, sustainability and nutrition which will not be neglected in the wake of significant upheaval. Working closely with local, regional and global change makers across government, business and civil society, we will take our findings to discussions at the Committee on Food Security 50, COP27, COP28 and more.
We are also ensuring consumers have access to fair food prices and are protected from price gouging during times of crisis. This will empower consumer advocates in Africa to defend people against excessive and unwarranted food prices and protect them from food insecurity.
Supporting vulnerable consumers and the energy transition
For the past sixty years, Consumers International has advocated for affordable, reliable and safe energy for all. Our position on the global stage means we are at the heart of influential discussion and decision-making. In 2015, our advocacy saw the inclusion of ‘universal access to clean energy’ in the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection. And in July 2022, at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy we successfully lobbied Member states to place the ‘energy transition’ as agenda item for 2023 – a first for an NGO at UNCTAD.
Now, as rising costs put consumers at the sharp end of market forces and geopolitical fallout, and with the urgent need to avert catastrophic climate change, calls to accelerate a green, equitable energy transition are growing louder. Consumers International recognises that consumers are key players in facilitating the transition and is ensuring they are supported to play a role. This involves assessing what additional protections consumers need as they navigate new technologies and energy markets, empowering consumers to make informed and sustainable decisions, and supporting low-income countries to decrease their dependency on oil and coal.
We will take our findings to influential discussion at COP27, Davos and the Seventh Session of UNCTAD’s IGE on Consumer Protection Law and Policy in July 2023 after having lobbied for the inclusion of energy on the session agenda.
Protecting vulnerable consumers from risk in digital finance
With almost 70% of Members reporting that household debt is increasing, rising financial anxiety will see more consumers turn towards banks and credit lenders for support. We have made it a priority to protect vulnerable consumers from bad practice within the digital financial sector. For World Consumer Rights Day this year we held our first Fair Digital Finance Forum, bringing our Members across the world together in a unanimous call for regulation of the sector, protecting consumers from risks including over indebtedness, unexpected fees, and a lack of transparency.
Within low- and middle-income countries, where digital finance is fast-growing, we’ve seen that consumer protection and regulation is struggling to keep pace. To confront this issue, Consumers International launched the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator, which works with consumer associations in 40 countries to build bridges with policymakers and ensure that consumer needs are addressed within new regulation.
As people find themselves unable to pay for essential items, it is predicted that more people will turn to ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ products in the hope of a temporary solution. In March, Consumers International united 11 of our Members in a joint statement across nine countries, calling for regulators and governments to take action in regulating Buy Now Pay Later products. We have since seen Australia make commitments to regulate the sector, and we will focus on advancing assurances from more countries in the year ahead.
How Consumers International Members are supporting the crisis response
We continue to be inspired by the efforts of our Members in helping consumers navigate their decline in purchasing power.
Our Members have been championing a range of initiatives, such as providing regular and accurate data on price rises, and campaigning on actions to mitigate rising prices and strengthen purchasing power. Many have been involved in direct provision of support, through the distribution of food and essentials to vulnerable and low-income consumers.
Examples of Consumers International Member action include:
- CLEAR X- a consortium of nine consumer associations across southern and eastern Europe who are facilitating affordable consumer access to household renewable technologies through collective purchase schemes and an improved regulatory framework.
- Consumer NZ (New Zealand) who recently launched a petition and open letter calling for the country’s Commerce Commission to strengthen competition regulation in the food retail sector, to tackle rapidly rising prices.
- The Consumer Council of Fiji who is working to reach vulnerable groups through their financial advisory services on Debt Management and other Consumer Advisory Services.
To find out more about our work and how you can be involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org.