Understanding the Culture and Psyche of Consumers in Different Markets An Asian Perspective

This paper was presented by Anwar Fazal at the Conference of the Society of Consumers Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) held in Adelaide, Australia,3-5  November 1995.

“As-salaamu-alaykum” which means “Peace be on you”.

I begin with the word “Peace” because it is so central to the future of humankind. “Peace” is not just above absence of war. It has to be a proactive modality with three dimensions:

·         Peace with ourselves

·         Peace with other people

·         Peace with mother earth.

“Peace” defined in this way is the commitment that we need to have so that we can rethink the way we organise ourselves to meet real consumer needs.

The Soul of the Consumer Movement

Our definition of consumer affairs must go beyond “Value of Money”. It must mean as much “Value for people”, meaning the impact of our consumption on other people and issues of equity and fairness to vulnerable groups. It must also mean. “Value for the Environment”, ensures that we care for the impact of our consumption on the fragile environment.

It is with this vision, or soul of the consumer movement, that I like to share with you some major dimensions of the “New Asian Drama” – the rise of “the Pacific Century” and even what has been daringly termed the “Century of the Dragon”.

Although there is a great resolution in information – an unprecedented explosion, in fact, it does not ensure knowledge and much less wisdom. We therefore have a challenge to comprehend some of the critical issues of the day and engage in a commitment for “social sustainability”, “economic sustainability” and “ecological sustainability”.

It is often assumed that the big multinationals would know all but even they sometimes slip on language and cultural differences, for example:

·         In Taiwan, the translation of Pepsi’s slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” was translated as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead” (some people think the kind of “hard” music they play would well do that!)

·         A Japanese tour agency in the US kept attracting travellers who wanted unusual sex tour. Kinki Nippon Travel Company changed its name!

·         In China, Coca Cola was initially pronounced “ke kou ke la) which translated as “bite the wax tadpole”!

There are however even bigger issues about the directions and manner in which humankind is being shaped and the bold measures we need to take to address them. There are three particular documents launched just last month that provide some very valuable analysis and tools for action and I like to take the opportunity to share them with you.

When Corporations Rules the World

The first important book is called When Corporations Rule the World by Dr. David C. Korten, who earlier has authored “Getting into the 21st Century” one of the best sources on understanding transformational social movements. He shares with us a map of a world where there are three socio-ecological classes (see Appendix III).

·         The “Over-Consumers” (over one billion)

·         The “Sustainers” (over three billion)

·         The “Under-Consumers” or the “Marginals” (over one billion).

He also shares with us views on “Democratic Pluralism” and how all of us have to be concerned about the worst aspects of both “State Tyranny” and “Market Tyranny” and how critically significant the latter is now as the power of “Globalisation” and transnational corporations combine to inflict on humankind a sometimes unconscionable paradigm based on the dominance of money and greed (see Appendix II).

David Korten talks to us about the importance of a new “people-centred development” and the crucial role for active citizenship.

Megatrends Asia

The second important work of significance is by John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends 2000”. He has this month launched a new book called Megatrends Asia. The insights he provides give us some of the best “broad sweep” thinking about the excitement that makes up the “New Asian Drama” 

He lists eight Megatrends

·         From Nation States                    to         Networks

·         From Export-led                        to         Consumer-driven

·         From Western Influence                        to         The Asian Way

·         From Villages                            to         Supercities

·         From Labour-intensive               to         High Technology

·         From Male Dominance              to         Emergence of Women

·         From West                                to         East

These eight megatrends are elaborated in Appendix I and even if they seem oversimplified generalisation, they are important for us to understand.

John Naisbitt also shares with us ideas on the tensions between “Asian” and “American” values, an issue, even if it engages in global stereotyping, these ideas will certainly challenge all those who are interested in politics, markets and culture (Appendix IV).

Consumer Charter for Global Business

The third important document is the “Consumer Charter for Global Business” launched by Consumers International. This instrument aims to encourage high levels of ethical behaviour by global companies, as well as to foster market conditions which provide consumers with greater choice at lower prices. It also aims to ensure that transnational corporations or TNC’s need to exceed minimal international health safety, quality and environmental standards. It challenges the large corporations to dialogue, commit and to ensure an acceptable degree of transparency in eight areas of concern to consumers:

·         Ethical standards

·         Competition issues

·         Marketing practices

·         Product standards

·         Labelling of products

·         Provision of information

·         Complaints procedures

·         Guarantees.

A copy of the Charter is attached as Appendix V. I hope all of you are challenged by this Charter and take measure to internalise its precepts.

The Global Tensions

The world today is undergoing “stress” as never before and among the central tensions that all of us should be concerned with are the following:

·         Globalisation            Vs        Localisation

·         Standardisation        Vs        Pluralisation

·         Consumption           Vs        Conservation

·         Materialism             Vs        Spiritualism

·         Individualism           Vs        Community

Like the “Yin” and “Yang”, we have to constantly seek the balance that will ensure that we, in the United Nations describe as “Sustainable Human Development” (SHD). Gus Speth, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) elaborates this concept as:

“Sustainable human development is development that not only generates economic growth but distributes its benefits equitably; that regenerates the environment instead of destroying it; that empowers people rather than marginalising them. It is development that gives priority to the poor; that enlarges their choices and opportunities, and that provides for their participation in events and decisions that shape their lives. It is development that is pro-poor, pro-nature, pro-jobs, pro-women and pro-children”.

I look forward to working together with you to further the ideas of peace and ensure sustainability for a better world for the many suffering today, and for future generations and for mother earth.

Thank you.


1.       Korten, David.  When Corporations Rule the World. Obtainable from Kumarian Press, 630 Oakland Avenue, Suite 119, West Hartford, Connecticut 06110-1529, USA, Fax: (1-203) 953-8579

2.       Naisbitt, John. Megatrends Asia. Obtainable from Nicholas Breadley Publishing Ltd, 21 Bloomsbury Way, London, WCIA 2TH, United Kingdom.

3.       Charter for Global Business. Obtainable from Consumers International, 24 Highbury Crescent, London N5 1RX, United Kingdom, Fax: (44 171) 354-0607.

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