Consumer Protection and Consumer Advocacy During the Pandemic
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across countries, surge pricing and shortages of essential goods like health supplies and food are affecting all regions.
Consumers International's survey of 100 consumer organisation members in all parts of the world revealed a familiar pattern of problems faced by consumers, and calls for swift action to protect not just health but access to essential services like food, utilities, finance and internet connections at a price that leaves no one out.
During this crisis, access to reliable information on health, safety and consumer rights is essential, and consumer groups across the globe are playing a leading role in supporting and protecting consumers during these challenging and uncertain times. Consumers International will continue to update this information page with the latest developments and insight on how consumer advocacy is addressing the challenges that arise from COVID-19.
This page will continue to evolve as the COVID-19 crisis develops. We welcome feedback, comments and information from our members and partners. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How are our members and partners supporting and protecting consumers through this crisis? See below for selected examples:
- In Australia, CHOICE has spoken out against brands and retailers using marketing campaigns to take advantage of the upsurge in panic buying of certain products. They have also warned against 'Do It Yourself' approaches to making hand sanitiser, directing consumers to the appropriate steps to stay safe with hygiene measures. The Consumers Federation of Australia is also supporting consumers with information on how COVID-19 might affect essential services, from internet to finance and housing.
- The Chinese Consumer Association prioritised several key areas during the country's initial COVID-19 peak in early 2020, including; refunds for those cancelling travel arrangements, the importance of monitoring negligent business practice and responsible messaging to alleviate consumer fears and prevent panic buying.
- For Malaysian consumers, panic buying has been a huge concern. Our member, FOMCA, has issued a press release with practical information for consumers, and details of the actions being taken to fine companies using surge pricing to take advantage of COVID-19. FOMCA is also advocating for a Government stimulus package that not only strengthens health services but also protect the rights of consumers.
- Hong Kong Consumer Council's 'Together, We Fight The Virus' campaign has set out to provide consumers with a range of guidance, tips and free resources for combating the virus. A clear focus has been providing reliable, verified and timely information as the crisis develops.
- In Italy, Altroconsumo is providing a free advice service, sharing information on everything from travel repayments to mortgage claims. Their crowdfunding campaign ‘They cure us, we help them’ has made a donation to a local hospital in Milan.
- Several of our members have reported a surge in scammers trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, from phishing emails to fake webshops. Consumentenbond has issued a warning to inform consumers on what to look out for, and their online hub provides advice on everything from travel refunds to the possible financial implications of the crisis.
- Euroconsumers, a consumer group that represents and protects consumers in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Brazil, has created a live blog service that shares daily updates on the information and advice services provided by its members.
- In France, UFC Que-Choisir is supporting consumers with daily updates and articles covering the most pressing consumer challenges arising as a result of COVID-19, including panic buying, the availability of healthcare and how to avoid scams.
- For UK consumers, Which?'s coronavirus advice service provides everything they need to know on how the crisis could affect them and the steps they can take to protect their rights, from cancelled holidays and events, to scams to look out for, and hygiene steps.
- Our German member, VZBV, has called for stronger government action to protect consumers in the wake of travel companies going out of business and not being able to reimburse customers. They have also created an information page to help consumers find answers to their most pressing concerns in the wake of the pandemic.
In the US, Consumer Reports is committed to sharing evidence-based reporting and advice through their COVID-19 Guide and Information hub, with key steps on how to stay safe, and answers to the most frequently asked questions.
- Across Latin America, our members are reporting misinformation and a lack of clarity over right to refunds as an issue for consumers during the COVID-19 crisis. ASPEC Peru are using radio, TV and social media to share clear and reliable information.
- In El Salvador, Centro para la Defensa del Consumidor (CDC) is calling on their government to introduce legislation to enforce maximum prices for certain food products in a bid to prevent the surge pricing tactics that are being abused by retailers across the country.
- The spread of COVID-19 in Brazil and the economic implications are likely to have the biggest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable consumers. IDEC is calling on the authorities to take measures to guarantee essential services.
El Poder del Consumidor has shared ten recommendations for Mexican consumers advising them on how to take care of their food and health when they are staying at home to quarantine or self-isolate.
In Chile, ODECU has also shared a set of recommendations for consumers, advising them on how they can stay safe, informed and protect their consumer rights during the COVID-19 crisis.
- In Africa, members are reporting many issues emerging due to COVID-19, with serious concerns over misinformation and businesses failing to follow safety advice. Consumer Council of Zimbabwe are working closely with their national Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure consumers receive reliable information. See here for the WHO's latest guidance.
- To combat the surge in prices of certain goods in Kenya, Consumer Grassroots Association has set up a WhatsApp function for reporting retailers taking advantage of consumers, and is also sharing regular updates on social media to keep their followers informed.
The Middle East
- In Saudi Arabia, the Consumer Protection Association is running a social media campaign with infographics that address some of the most pressing issues for consumers during the crisis, from how to get access to essential food supplies to fake sanitary products to avoid.
- Panic buying has become a real concern for food retailers in Oman, and many consumers are finding it difficult to access basic food products as a result. The Public Authority for Consumer Protection has released a series of videos on social media to reassure consumers and warn against panic buying.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be sharing regular updates on the consumer challenges we are encountering across the globe, and how consumer advocacy is supporting and protecting consumers through this crisis. Follow us on social media, and sign up to our email services, to stay informed.
Click below for a curated Twitter feed sharing the latest advice, insight and updates on COVID-19 from Consumers International members and partners.