A Charter for Consumer Action

Address by Anwar Fazal, President of International Organization of Consumers Unions at the opening of the UNIDO/IOCU Seminar, Ankara, Turkey on 12 February 1979.

Some 3500 years ago, the Hittites of Anatolia which is now in Turkey had a consumer code relating to food matters. This code had two principles:

  • “Thou shall not poison thy neighbour’s fat” – i.e. food should be safe and wholesome.
  • “Thou shall not bewitch thy neighbor’s fat” – i.e. that there should be no cheating or misleading.

These two principles apply as much today as they did then.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to be here in the country that provided probably the first official consumer code in the world. Added to that distinction is the fact that yesterday we held our first Testing Committee meeting in this part of the world, and also that today we are commencing our first major cooperative venture with UNIDO.

The consumer movement is today a world-wide movement, a movement that is active in every continent, and in countries in all stages of development. It is a movement that is concerned not only with fair prices and better quality of goods, but also with a whole range of public interest issues that bear on the consumers’ interest, an interest we all share because we are all consumers.

*         The movement has now attracted the attention of the United Nations which in a resolution of the Economic and Social Council in August, 1977, stated that the “benefits of development measures aimed at raising the standard of living and improving the quality of life of the people of the world would be enhanced if they were accompanied by adequate measures for the protection of individual consumers.” Also a report in 1975 of the UN Commission on Human Rights stated that “people must know and assert their rights as consumers, if they are to get the maximum benefit from the development process.”

Consumer Rights

What are these rights? I suggest that there are seven, as follows:

·        Right to Safety – the right to be protected against the marketing of goods which are dangerous to health.

·        Right to be Informed – the right to be protected against dishonest, deceitful or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling or other practices and to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice.

·        Right to Basic Services and to Choice – the right to basic services and access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices, and in the case of government or private monopolies, to have an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices.

·        Right to be Heard – the right to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the making and execution of government policy.

·        Right to Compensation Against Damage – the right to compensation for misrepresentation or shoddy goods of services. Free legal aid, where needed, should be available, or an accepted form of arbitration for small claims.

·         Right To Consumer Education – the right to consumer education to enable you to act as an informed consumer throughout your life.

·        Right To A Clean Environment – the right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment that permits a life of dignity and well being. You bear a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

A Consumer Action Charter

Our experience is that we cannot rely on Business to take adequate measures. We cannot also rely entirely on governments, who have various pressures on them. The first task is to be strong and effective as self protection is the ultimate protection. We must, through our own competence and vigilance, provide the information and action for the protection of consumers.

It is often useful to have a frame of reference for consumer education and consumer action and in this connection the following five principles (first suggested by Prof. Heiko Steffens of Berlin at the 9th IOCU Congress) provide a useful foundation:

·         Critical Awareness – our citizens must be awakened to be more questioning about the provision of the quality of goods and services.

·         Involvement or Action – our citizens must assert themselves and act to ensure that they get a fair deal.

·         Social Responsibility – our citizens must act with social responsibility, concern and sensitivity to the impact of their actions on other citizens, in particular, in relation to disadvantaged groups in the community and in relation to the economic and social realities prevailing.

·         Ecological Responsibility – there must be a heightened sensitivity to the impact of consumer decisions on the physical environment, which must be developed to a harmonious way, promoting conservation and we must fight against the degradation of this most critical factor in improving the real quality of life for the present and the future.

·         Solidarity – the best and most effective action is through cooperative efforts through the formation of citizens groups who together can have the strength and influence to ensure that adequate attention is given to the consumer interest.

The achievement of the above principles or what we may call the Charter for Consumer Action will not be an easy one. It will require commitment, integrity and hard work. In Turkey you have taken important steps towards these ends and I hope that this Seminar can give added impetus to your efforts.

We hope very much that your efforts to secure new consumer protection laws consistent with current thinking and the realities of the situation here will soon materialise and that also you will be able to join ICU as a member very soon.

We in IOCU are looking forward to work with you and wherever possible to assist you in the exciting journey to give the consumers a better deal.

I must also thank UNIDO for their special efforts in making this programme a reality and for giving us this opportunity to share our experiences in this new field of international concern. This Seminar, we believe, is a concrete manifestation of the Lima Declaration of UNIDO to bring real development through participation of the people. In bringing together consultants from South-East Asia, UNIDO has also supported the concept of Technical Cooperation between Developing Countries (TCDC).

On behalf of the very soon IOCU I wish this Seminar every success and may it make an important contribution to the welfare of the consumers of Turkey.

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