What the Consumer Movement is About

Address by Anwar Fazal, President, International Organization of Consumers Unions at the opening session of the Seminar on Law, Justice and the Consumer organised by the Consumers Association of Penang in Penang, Malaysia on 19 November 1982.

The consumer movement is about five important things. First, the consumer movement is about PEOPLE. People who are about society from a very special perspective, a perspective that concerns every single human being, man, woman, child, the hawker, the doctor, even the lawyer and politician. This perspective is about ourselves as consumers – about the food we eat, drink we take, medicines we use,  products and services we get or don’t get. It is also about those who try, because they put profits before health, to manipulate our behaviour against our very interest, through advertising and through the power they have to impose deprivations on us.

Secondly, the consumer movement is also about power – power of the ordinary people to organise themselves collectively to serve as a countervailing force to promote and protect our interests as consumers, to help us fight the violence, waste and manipulation that characterise so many of our societies.

Thirdly, the consumer movement is also about human rights:

·         The right to a decent life with dignity

·         The right to organise ourselves as consumers

In particular, it is about promoting and protection seven specific consumer rights

·         The right to have our basic needs met efficiently and equitably, this would include the right to 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.

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

·         The Right to be informed – 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.

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

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

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

·         The Right to a clean environment – right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment that permits a life of dignity and well being.

Fourthly, the consumer movement is also about the environment – about a sustainable earth. We cannot just be concerned serving and protecting the insides or our bodies, our “inner limits”, but we have equally to be concerned with the “outer limits” of mother-spaceship earth, a powerful complex and yet so fragile, an exploitable structure that gives us the opportunity for a good life but which can be destroyed not by peoples needs but by peoples greed, ignorance and carelessness.

Fifthly and lastly, the consumer movement is also about justice about the way in which our political, legal and economic systems are organized to bring about a fair, just, equitable and rational basis to promote and protect the public interest.

The five pillars, I believe, are the basis on which to judge the relevancy, competence and the success of a consumer movement. These five pillars have always been an integral part of the work of the Consumers’ Association of Penang and it gives me great pleasure therefore to be associated with you and this seminar. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has demonstrated this humanistic and ecological approach to the consumer movement as few groups in the world have done. You have made the consumer movement relevant and you have shown that it can make a difference.

I therefore bring, not just greetings from the 120 groups from 50 countries that make up the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) but also their admiration for your accomplishments. To many groups in the Third World for whom just survival is victory, you are a precious model of what can be done. Your critical, constructive, humanistic and ecological approach is a constant source of guidance and inspiration for all of us, guidance and inspiration so badly needed in many countries where corrupt governments is league with greedy business interests do not like to see a strong consumer movement (unless, of course, they can run it themselves).

In many parts of the world, consumers are not able to exercise their rights or even know they exist. The law should protect and promote these rights and sometimes even more critical, the right to organise around them. But laws are only a reflection of the state of our society – a violent, corrupt, manipulative society will breed laws that serve it. Laws can prevent and subvert justice and they can become a powerful instrument for systematic repression. Laws do not mean justice, nor do they imply automatic action. There must be safeguards and the ultimate safeguard must be a critical, informed, active citizenry that is rooted in strong, clear, humanistic and ecological principles that can provide a unifying bond for our pluralistic society. To be active, informed, and critical involves commitment, organisation and courage.  Thank goodness these are not in short supply, although they are never enough. Anwar Ibrahim and S.M. Mohd. Idris have both demonstrated these qualities so well in their varied roles. As long as there are such people, we can hope for a more caring and just society.

I wish this seminar and all that it represents, every success. I leave you with these thoughts:

·         if the people are asleep, awaken them

·         if they fear to act, give them the courage by taking the first steps yourself.

Terima Kasih (thank you).

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