Consumers International 60th Anniversary
The consumer movement has grown from a pioneering group of founding members in 1960 to an incredibly diverse and powerful global network in 2020. During the course of the last 60 years, there have been some inspiring collaborative wins and moments of impact; from getting guidelines on consumer protection adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1985 and contributing to the 2015 abolition of export subsidies for agricultural products, to successfully campaigning for the G20 to develop international principles on financial consumer protection. With over 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries, we continue to build a powerful international movement to help protect and empower consumers everywhere.
This important milestone is a moment to recognise and celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the consumer movement – but it is also a key opportunity to look to the future and highlight the central role of consumers and consumer advocates as we move towards 2030.
2020 itself has been an incredibly challenging year so far and has required leadership through crisis, showing that a united, determined and passionate movement is critical, with consumer groups working together with key partners and global leaders to drive change towards a safer, fairer and more sustainable world.
We asked consumer leaders from our Board, Council, and select members from across the globe to share their vision for the future and explore what consumer advocacy will have achieved by 2030. Across all regions, the top 3 issues to emerge were sustainability, digitalisation and inclusion.
“This decade is the determinant in our sustainability challenge – it is a decade of many transitions, many opportunities and many threats – and a celebration of community.”
Yasir Suliman, Secretary-General, Sudanese Consumer Protection Society
By 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to match the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. In line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns is a key focus of our work and one of the most pressing issues for our members globally. In the Netherlands, Mexico, Russia and Sweden, members highlighted the importance of ensuring that sustainable products and services are made available and affordable for every consumer, empowering individuals to contribute to environmental protection and making sustainability the easy choice for consumers. Our members in Rwanda and Belgium also emphasised the potential of new technologies (including using Artificial Intelligence, data and the Internet of Things) to drive a green transition – a point which is particularly relevant to key areas such as food, plastic pollution and energy, where consumer advocates continue to push for increased traceability and accountability through better use of technology and data.
“In the future, consumer advocacy should ensure greater protection in the Digital Economy, strong regulatory frameworks to protect consumers, a shrinking digital gap, and self-protection through digital literacy.”
Marimuthu Nadason, President, Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (FOMCA)
About half the world's population accesses and uses the Internet. While this number is on the rise, substantial digital divides persist between (and within) countries, with nearly 87 per cent of people using the Internet in developed countries in 2019, compared to 47 per cent in developing countries. Now more than ever, it is crucial that all consumers have access to affordable and efficient internet connection, irrespective of age, gender, disability, socioeconomic status or geography. This was particularly highlighted by members in Peru, India and Malaysia, with a focus on closing the digital divide and ensuring consumers have access to digital education to protect their own rights and interests. Globally, there is huge potential for digitisation to empower consumers and accelerate improvements across a number of areas, including public health, the environment and education. Though the COVID-19 pandemic represents a significant challenge, members in Sweden, Nigeria, Fiji and Zimbabwe were united in pushing for higher standards and regulation for security and privacy, effective enforcement, and increased transparency and control over consumers’ personal data.
“What will consumer advocacy have achieved by 2030 globally? Consumers in all countries will have equal access to essential products and services, including healthy food, healthcare and medication. The same goes for essential financial services (checking accounts, mortgage) and digital services.”
Sandra Molenaar, CEO, Consumentenbond (Netherlands)
With global extreme poverty expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years, ensuring access to basic necessities such as water, food, electricity and healthcare for all consumers has never been more important. This is a key focus across all regions, with members working to mitigate the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape through protecting and empowering vulnerable consumers. In Fiji, India and Peru, members specifically highlighted the importance of education as a basic right, as well as using consumer advocacy as a tool to enable knowledge sharing and capacity building at a greater scale.
Our vision is a world where people have access to safe and sustainable goods and services, exercising their individual rights as consumers and using the force of their collective power for the good of consumers everywhere. As we celebrate and reflect together on the greatest achievements of the consumer movement and how it can continue to play a valuable role in the future, we continue to work tirelessly to:
- Make sustainability the easy choice for consumers
- Build a digital world that is safer, more inclusive and designed around the real life needs of consumers
- Pursue an ambitious, flexible and action-orientated approach to building partnerships
- Lead through crisis with a focus on protecting and empowering consumers.
Explore the statements linked below for a more comprehensive picture of the priorities and visions shared by our global membership and key partners – from food, youth action, and changing the balance of power in the market, to cross-border e-commerce and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations, we are delighted to hear from global leaders at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Trade Centre (ITC), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO) and International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN).
Sergio Mujica, Secretary-General, International Organization for Standardization
Qu Dongyu, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Josephine Palumbo, President, International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network
Consumers International, formerly known as the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU), was started in 1960 by a group of five consumer organisations from the US, Western Europe and Australia. Originally we were established as a global information exchange between the increasing number of consumer product-testing organisations that had sprung up in the post-war boom years. However we quickly established a formidable reputation as an agent for change on the consumer issues of the day.
Building a powerful international movement
In 10 short years after we started, we attracted 50 member organisations. Another decade later, we had achieved General Consultative Status at the United Nations (UN) – having helped wage and win major campaigns against transnational companies over issues relating to baby food and pesticides.
Our history has taken us from the US and Europe to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, through Eastern Europe and across Africa. Today, we have more than 200 member organisations in over 100 countries, and we continue to grow.
Our work has evolved to reflect greater involvement in issues ranging from public utilities and food and drug safety, to the environment and credit and debt that affect consumers everywhere.
What has not changed is our commitment to building a powerful international movement to protect and empower all consumers.
Our biggest achievements
Since the 1960s we have pioneered new methods of campaigning, mobilising disparate groups of people on a particular issue and targeting influential figures within government and industry to bring about change. Some of our campaigning achievements include:
UN guidelines on consumer protection
Getting guidelines on consumer protection adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1985 after ten years of campaigning. The Guidelines spell out the main principles of consumer protection globally. Numerous countries have since adopted laws based on this model. The Guidelines were brought fully up to date in 2015, when, following campaigning by Consumers International and our members the UN General Assembly adopted the revised UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
Establishing networks in the 1970s and 80s that achieved positive results for consumers including the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Pesticides Action Network (PAN). As a result we saw the adoption of the International Code of Marketing on Breast Milk Substitutes by the World Health Organization – the first such code designed to control widespread marketing abuses by baby food companies. We also campaigned against toxic pesticides and unethical marketing practices, successfully preventing the export of banned or restricted pesticides without the consent of governments in importing countries.
World Trade Organisation
Starting work in World Trade Organisation negotiations in 2001 and contributing to the 2015 abolition of export subsidies for agricultural products. This achievement supported consumers by helping to stabilise violent price fluctuations in agricultural products, particularly in developing countries.
Working on international standards and contributing to setting international benchmarks to guide businesses and governments towards providing and regulating for better services to consumers. The areas covered include water and sanitation, second-hand goods and social responsibility to most recently, mobile payments and energy. The energy standard was the first ISO standard ever to be initiated by an NGO.
Successfully campaigning for the G20 to develop international principles on financial consumer protection and formalise FinCoNet, the international network of regulators for financial consumer protection. We were the first witnesses to give evidence to the G20 task force on consumer protection in financial services. We contributed to the high level principles adopted by G20 ministers in 2011. The principles help guide financial services providers and legislators to protect consumers in their financial affairs.
You can read more about our history and key achievements in our commemorative 50th anniversary booklet (eng), published in 2010.