Consumer Education in the Pacific
Address of Mr Anwar Fazal, President, International Organization of Consumers Union (IOCU) at the International Workshop on Consumer Education, Suva, Fiji, on 12 October 1983.
Friends and fellow consumers
It gives me great pleasure to convey to you the greetings of the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU), a non-profit, non-political foundation representing the interest of consumers worldwide. IOCU coordinates and supports the work of over 120 consumer organisations in some 50 countries of the world, representing every continent, and representing countries at every state of development. IOCU also has official consultative status with the United Nations and many of its specialised agencies.
I had hoped very much to be here myself but other urgent commitments have kept me away. I am grateful to David Russell, deputy director of New Zealand Consumer Institute, for reading this speech on my behalf.
Today is a very special occasion for the Consumer Council for the following reasons:
Firstly, it is the first international meeting on consumer protection to take place in the Pacific.
Secondly, it is the occasion for a very happy announcement I like to make and that is that IOCU in conjunction with World Food Day, which is on October 16, is launching a unique consumer education and information programme – a set of 48 radio scripts on the protection and promotion of breastfeeding. The radio scripts will go to some 40 radio networks in the Asian Pacific region. This is part of a joint programme with the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA), and with the inter-governmental Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD). It is funded by a good and sincere friend of this region, New Zealand.
Consumer education, which is the theme of your workshop, is about life and about living. It is about
- The way in which our economies are meeting the needs and demands of consumers.
- The way in which we treat our pockets and our body
- It concerns all of us young and old, men and women, rich and poor, all who have to consume.
Today, we live in a world in which violence, waste and manipulation have not only become central elements in our lives but which have become profitable for the merchants of death, the rapists of the earth, and those who manipulate our behaviour, our fears and desires.
Violence – it has been estimated in a recent book Prescription for Death that pharmaceuticals may be responsible for a minimum of 10 to 15 million cases of injury and one million deaths each year among the three billion people in the developing world. Conservative figures suggest at least 375,000 people in the Third World are poisoned yearly by pesticides and, of them, at least 10,000 die because of pesticides that are very often not permitted in the countries of itsorigin.
Waste – no figures will be enough to describe the wanton destruction and misuse of resources, of processes, of products in our society. We see the destruction of the tropical forests and the waste of meagre incomes by poor people in the third world on useless, inappropriate products – products they do not need nor can afford. In Bangladesh, it was once said that the bulk of the vitamins bought were purchased by people who did not need them and they mostly were excreted as urine – vitaminised urine is a luxury that Bangladesh can do without.
Manipulation – probably one of the greatest behavioural changes occurred in the way in which the natural, unbeatable, self reliant method of feeding babies with milk from the mothers’ breasts was subverted and supplanted by two kinds of so called “modern technologies” – the technology of processed cows milk and the technology of marketing. We see pervasive manipulation of people’s behaviour through advertising and promotional tactics that border in certain industries, on the criminal and immoral – offering bribes, from ball pens to women. This subversion of breastfeeding itself has been associated with health problems among 10 million infants a year. James Grant, Director of UNICEF, has said that if we can protect and promote breastfeeding we can save the lives of one million infants a year.
Through consumer education we can build a new generation of citizens who consumer rationally and who consume with care for other human beings and for this precious earth.
Consumer education is a must. Make it an integral part of your education system both in schools and for the general public.
I have every confidence that this will happen. How fast we recognise its value, how fast we develop the practical means for making it useable in our daily lives, is the challenge you have before you.
IOCU will give every support possible for your efforts to develop in this area.
I like to take the opportunity to thank two groups who have especially made this important occasion possible:
- The Fiji Consumer Council, and particularly its Chairman, Mr S. Sajjananand, without whose foresight, initiative and perseverance this workshop would not have seen the light of day.
- The Consumer Institute of New Zealand, and in particular its Director, Mr D. S. Smithies, and its Deputy Ddirector, Mr. David Russell, who have consistently displayed a sense of global sharing and responsibility in this new field of international concern.
I like to share with you five simple principles which I have found useful which provides a framework for action as responsible consumers. We call them in Sanskrit, one of the ancient languages of Asia Pacific, - the “Panchasila” for consumers.
- Critical awareness – we must be awakened to be more questioning about the goods and services we consume. “Why” we should consume should be as important as “what” and which”.
- Involvement or action – we must assert ourselves and act to ensure that we get a fair deal. We can start with ourselves then with those around us and move on to the community and the nation.
- Social responsibility – we must act with social responsibility with concern, sensitivity to the impact of our actions on their citizens, in particular, in relation to disadvantaged groups in the community. Purchasing power is real power and the power to boycott is a powerful weapon. By voting with your purchasing power you can for example reinforce racist of repressive regimes or you can through selective purchases and non-purchases help to bring not just better products but a better world.
- Ecological responsibility – there must be a heightened sensitivity to the impact of consumer decision on the physical environment, which must be developed to a harmonious way, promoting conservation. We must fight against the degradation of the environment if we are to see improvements in 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.
I wish this workshop every success.Back to Speeches