From our president: Basic rights for all

Consumer Reports magazine: August 2013

“Consumers, by definition,” said John F. Kennedy in 1962, “include us all.” That year, he issued the first-ever declaration of fundamental rights consumers should (but didn’t yet) have: the right to safety, to be informed, to choose, and to be heard.

In 1985 the United Nations adopted its first consumer-protection guidelines based on Kennedy’s list, and it expanded them in 1999.

The U.N. guidelines serve as a model for countries as they develop protections for their own consumers. But they haven’t been universally adopted or enforced. That’s why Consumers International, a federation of 240 consumer organizations in more than 115 countries, continues to campaign to expand consumer protections.

Consumers International, of which I’m privileged to serve as volunteer president, is formally recognized by the U.N. and other international bodies as the global voice for consumers. It has committed to work with the U.N. to update the existing guidelines and, more important, to push for those rights to cover all consumers around the world, even the poorest and most vulnerable.

Enact and enforce

Consumers International recently surveyed member organizations about the state of consumer protection in their countries. Among the findings: Lower-income countries were far less likely than higher-income nations to have a national policy on consumer protection; not all countries that pass consumer-friendly legislation update it to keep it viable (Brazil’s hasn’t changed since 1990); and far too many fail to enforce it. (India’s organization reported that “consumer protection remains on paper and is often illusory.”)

So as the U.N. works to position consumers’ rights in an increasingly complex financial, digital, and environmentally tenuous world, we must not lose sight of the fundamental protections that all consumers deserve. That’s why Consumers International believes that it’s essential to include access to food, water, energy, and shelter in the new U.N. guidelines. To learn more, go to consumersinternational.org.

Jim Guest

President

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