Launched! A Movement to Right Wrongs with Right Products

Address by  Anwar Fazal, President of the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) at a Press conference in Penang, Malaysia, on 13 July 1982,  following the  International Seminar on Appropriate Product, organised by the International Organization of Consumers Unions’ (IOCU) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), Switzerland and supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

Widespread organised adulteration of food in India, malpractices of transnational corporations in the Philippines, the infant food scandal, social and ecological crises that have loomed as a result of unsuitable technology and products, shocking and shameful statistics like:

  • Americans spend more on cosmetics than the combined budget of all African countries;
  • An estimated 1.5 million people are poisoned by pesticides and 30,000 die, three-quarters of them in the Third World;
  • As much as 40 percent of income in many Barbados households could be wasted due to inefficient use of products. 

These were some of the subjects of discussion during the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) seminar on appropriate products, organised in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

Thirty people from 13 countries, representing every African continent, attended the four-day meeting from March 9, 1982, at Penang Hill, Penang, Malaysia.  Among them were consumer leaders from the IOCU networks and researchers and representatives of the ILO and IDRC.

Basic Needs – Basic Issues

Participants spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to define an appropriate product, and came to the conclusion that though some products are universally inappropriate, many others are only relatively so – depending on the environment in which they are used.  One of the basic issues in less developed countries, for example, is the satisfaction of basic needs, hence it is necessary in such nations to judge the suitability of a product in the light of the issue.

The link between appropriate products and appropriate technology was also explored.  Many participants felt the consumer movement should be more than a remedying force; it should also become actively involved in the formulation of product policies.

Other basic questions asked and discussed: Does the rapid depletion of natural resources urge a more critical look at unrestrained economic growth?  What is the relationship between the consumer and labour movements?  Should the consumer movement, realising that the consumption pattern of a group of consumers may adversely affect that of another group, consider the need for income re-distribution and work towards that end?

The intense debate during the “think tank” seminar, which underlined the urgency to deal with the issue, culminated in the drawing up of a set of recommendations on appropriate products.

The Time is Now! and it has to be Appropriate

Recognising that the waves of wasteful, harmful and useless products hitting markets the world over have to be stemmed (and stemmed fast!), the participants endorsed the need for immediate, informed, concerned and sustained action to re-orientate production and consumption. 

It was also asserted that inappropriate products should be treated as a socio-economic problem of phenomenal scale, especially in less developed countries, where they affect survival, safety and indigenous ways of life and means to livelihood.

Action… Action… Action

The following, among others, are what the participants asked IOCU to arrange for:

·            The setting up of APRAN or an Appropriate Products Research and Action Network, an informal grouping of organizations, institutes and researchers working on the subject of appropriate products with the objective of exchanging experiences and enlarging co-operation.

·            A pilot project on the development of a national appropriate products policy in one or two countries.

·            Development and documentation of test methods which are appropriate to the low-income groups in less developed countries.

·            International hearings or other activities to highlight a selective list of grossly inappropriate products or practices.

·            The preparation of a Whole World Appropriate Product – Do-it-Yourself manual.

Consumer groups were asked to take social and ecological considerations into account when making recommendations to members on products and services.  Those in less developed countries were requested to urge the use of indigenous products, where appropriate, while groups in developing countries make members more aware of how their way of life and their countries’ policies affect other countries.

It is the belief of the participants that national and international governments and non-governmental bodies should:

·            Put curbs on inappropriate products through import and investment policies, legislation on marketing and quality control, introducing measure to regulate the quantity and content of the promotion of inappropriate products and enforcement of the laws.

·            Draw on the experience of consumers groups when planning and carrying out research on appropriate products and technology.

Mr. Anwar Fazal, President of IOCU, has this to say about the seminar:

“It has been estimated that we can save the lives of one million infants if we protect and promote breastfeeding – the appropriate product par excellence.  If we take what is wasted on pharmaceuticals, pesticides, tobacco, cosmetics, junk food, zero nutrition drinks, we recognise how the poor pay more and often pay with their lives and we have a scandal of immense proportion.  It is intolerable and unconscionable, and the world consumer movement must respond to it with action.

“It is no longer just a question of getting value for money, it is as much a question of the value we place on the impact of our consumption on other human beings and on the environment.  The violence and the waste associated with so much consumption today must not be allowed to continue.

This seminar represents the beginnings of a bold step to systematically deal with that issue.”

Background of the Seminar

What common ground, you may ask, does IOCU, ILO and IDRC have in the area of appropriate products? 

IOCU views appropriate products as one of its major concerns. It feels the problem is of special relevance in less developed countries where consumption patterns, originating in developed countries, are being “forced’ on consumers through sales promotion without due regard to the real needs of the consumer.  IOCU also views with concern the presence of indigenous inappropriate products.

ILO (Employment and Development Department) has carried out a series of nine studies on technology, products and income distribution.  It includes subjects like shoes in Ghana, metal utensils in India, bicycles in Malaysia and soap in Barbados. Primarily marketing studies, they are aimed at determining to what extent basic needs of consumers are met by the current assortment of products.

IDRC’s Social Science Department has a long-standing interest in appropriate technology and was willing to contribute financially and contents-wise.

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