We the Consumers

Keynote address by Anwar Fazal at the "Consumer Policy 2000" Seminar in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the Consumers Unions of the United States of America at New York on 27 May 1986.

Friends, today is a celebration. And I would like to share with you my reflections about the consumer movement.

We are all consumers. Fifty years ago, Consumers’ Union was born, a consumers union   that was to change the face of the consumer movement. That Union gave life to an idea whose time had come, that Union gave spirit to a movement which was to ring around the world. It was no mean feat, no mean task, science of the consumers, by the consumers, for the consumers. It was no mean feat too caring for people, caring for working conditions, caring for the environment, caring for us consumers. Consumers’ Union of the United States of America we salute you. Yes, it was no mean feat you showed us all - all consumers  - that there is a new way, a better way, a stronger way for all of us as consumers.

Yes we are all consumers and we remember – must remember – that we consume with our not just with our mouth; we consume with our eyes, with our ears, with all our senses. We consume things, we use things; we use services, we use them, some produced and provided by government, corporations, by nobody and some with the tender loving care of a craftsman or artist. Some times we consume and we know what we consume; sometimes we know not much, if nothing at all. Sometimes we consume freely; sometimes no one gives us a choice. Who hears the cry of pain of the baby in the womb? Who sees the poison in the air or those killing lights of far away events?

Some things are free, things we pay for - sometimes fully, sometimes partly and sometimes we pay with our lives, unnecessarily, unforgiveably.

Yes, we are all consumers, young and old, black, white, yellow or brown and anything in between. Some of us have, some do not, some of us just exist. Some of us seek pleasure others seek joy. Some of us take, consume, devour; some of us give, share, sacrifice.

Yes, we are all consumers, each in our special way, but together, we can show a better way. We face a violent world, a manipulative world, a wasteful world. Some of us dare to change it to seek a world where there is less violence, more humanity, less manipulation, more liberation, less waste, more conservation.

Yes, we are all consumers, human beings. We are not anti-business. We are not anti-progress. We are not anti-government. We are for good business, we are for real progress, and we are for responsible, responsive government.

Yes, we are all consumers. We are only against the bad, the violence, manipulation and waste - those sicknesses that weaken us and this spaceship we call our home.

We are only against the powers that generate these sicknesses and make us victims.

We seek only justice, a fair marketplace, a caring body politic to survive, to live with dignity and in harmony with ourselves and with Mother Earth.Yes, some of us dare to change. Ours is a revolution but not of the right, nor of the left. It is a revolution of the spirit, of the perspective that all of us are consumers – that we have rights, important rights: the right to access to basic things, to services; the right to have real choices, the right to have assurance of safety and quality, the right to the knowledge to decide our consumption or non-consumption. We have the right to speak our voice, to be heard, the right to have the help, to learn the skills, the knowledge, to consume wisely. We have the right to redress and justice, and we have the right to a clean environment. Think these eight consumer rights, your rights, our rights.

Yes, all of us are consumers. We have responsibilities too - at least five:

  • To be critical; to ask why and to ask why not
  • To act, and to act without fear 
  • To care for fellow human beings
  • To live in peace with the environment
  • To join hands and create the solidarity, the spirit, the strength of many voices acting together.

Critical, assertive, socially responsible, ecologically sensitive. Yes we are all consumers, working together, joined together by a community of interest, a common vision, a joint mission, a shared journey, caring, sharing and acting for the consumer interest everywhere. Think these responsibilities, your responsibilities, our responsibilities. 

Yes, we are all consumers and we have grown. There has been a magnificent proliferation, an explosion of our energy, in all five continents, in countries at every stage of development, organisation upon organisation, network upon network. Yes, there has been an explosion. There has also been a new depth and intensity in our work and a new sensitivity. There has been an implosion. This implosion reaches the heart, the soul, mother earth, the lives of poor people, powerless people, saving lives, saving money, generating a force for happiness. There has also been a displosion, a new diversity of methods, of partners, on issues, new links forged with brothers and sisters in many other movements, moving forward together as never before. Babyfoods, pesticides, drugs, smoking, hazardous technologies and many more, and more to come in this explosion, implosion and displosion.

Yes, we are all consumers and we are growing and growing and growing. We work in many ways - the scientific tests we do – accurate, correct, credible, using the purity and power of simple truth. We deal with the messiness of the marketplace, and help the little people of the world, help them have that little more power that makes the difference. We seek to change laws, make them work for people. And we work to change the systems that inflict on us structures that are unjust, unfair, and unacceptable

Yes, we are all consumers. Our governments say they are with us. Our governments say they work in many ways for us.  But many times, many places they don’t work at all, ignorant, inefficient and indifferent. Ignorance we can treat with the kindness of information of knowledge. Inefficiency we can meet by demanding better skills and more resources. But indifference! Indifference we will meet by raising hell!

Yes, we are all consumers, facing too many useless, wasteful, inefficient, inappropriate, unnecessary products, and sometimes no products at the things that we really need. Markets in chaos, cash register ethics, and profits run wild, faceless forces that make us buy what we don’t need, what we cannot afford. Forces that make us addicts, slaves of envy. The sellers become pushers, pushing useless things, making useless people, while others die because there is nothing.

Yes, we are all consumers, and today we span the world, encouraged and mandated by the highest global conscience of the world – the United Nations of the World. No more a fringe movement, no more a luxury, but the dignity of a world issue, a world challenge, a perspective to be asserted as an integral part of real development process. No more just some token ad hoc, half-hearted response to a creaky market, but an essential part of the process paradigm. Yes, we span the world, too through networks

lighting up and giving hope, little groups giving hope, little groups seeking a little justice, little groups for whom sheer survival is often victory, e.g. IBFAN, HAI, PAN, Consumer Interpol, AGHAST and more, and more to come, building on the strength of weak links capturing the imagination, creating an avalanche of consumer power.

We span the world too, with a new kind of science, evaluating, assessing, comparing information, using the power of truth, the power of science, responsibility with a conscience. A power not just to help us choose, but to create a new attitude and concept

of value, of real value for money and beyond that, value for people. And not just creating attitudes, but creating better, safer, more appropriate products - water pumps, cold chains, weighing scales for babies of the world, making, designing really useful, appropriate things, creating a whole new application of science thinking ‘before’ rather than ‘later’.

Yes, we are all consumers and we shall grow even stronger. From America to Europe, to Asia and the Pacific, and now to Latin America and Africa and the Middle East, and already China, where the dragon awakes and says, “It is the sacred right of consumers to be protected”.  Yes, we are all consumers. We can help to overcome man’s inhumanity to man. Ixhuatepec, Mexico - 500 killed, Bhopal, India, 2500 killed,

Chernobyl, Russia, who will ever know? And many before and many after. Uncaring,

Superior people, pesticides that kill, baby foods that kill, medicines carelessly marketed that kill. Superior people, superior technology, running wild, unleashing madness, unleashing killing clouds, killing heats and killing lights. Giant corporations shirking, callous, monolithic governments. Closed minds, closed eyes, unable to face the truth of the failure of violent technology, inept capabilities,  man’s inhumanity to man.

We shall overcome. Yes, we are all consumers, and we shall create more power, more strength, we have done it before, and we will do it again many, many more times. Many other things will emerge, must emerge. An International group of consumer protection regulatory authorities - a government network; a consumer policy research network, a consumer intellectual blood bank, a consumer Interpol for consumer fraud - for commercial crimes against the consumer, a consumer leadership training institute -building a crop of new leaders, a new information and documentation network based on the new information technologies. More networks, more actions. We can say: “who knows, perhaps, maybe”. Or we can say, “we want, and then we do”. We have done so much with so little. And now we can do so much more. Romantics, realists, radicals, but most of all consumers, together as consumers.

Yes, we are all consumers, and together we can provide a cutting edge, sharper than ever before making paths where non existed, through complex crossroads, making journeys to new destinations, where human rights and ecological harmony are an intrinsic part of the marketplace, where value is measured not just in dollars or in yen,

But in well being and in happiness.

Yes, we are all consumers, balancing between order and freedom, between testing and protesting between states and corporations, between nations and globe, between person and community, fighting always the notion that successful economies can come only at the expense of justice. That cooperation and reinforcement – between ourselves, between consumer groups both strong and just beginning, old and young, north and south, between countries is not a matter of charity or a matter of creating dependencies, but both an imperative, a liberating necessity, a part of the rounded consumer personality. The testing and publishing houses provide a precious life force, giving us independence, strength, resources and the uncorrupted assertiveness that provides a firm foundation for that liberation. The advocacy groups and the galaxy of networks, provide us with a second life force that gives us vision, voice, and vitality - a cutting edge for our liberation. State and parastatal groups provide us with a third life force, bringing power, organization and continuity - a manifestation that consumer protection is an essential state responsibility, too. Each of these life forces mutually reinforcing, asserting their mission, their conscience,

Yes, we are all consumers, and together we can create the future. Not just react,

But to pro-act, shaping and setting the agenda, creating most of all more leaders,

not just readers, not just followers. Creating new leaders who can think local and who can think global, who can think information, and can think action, who can think politics, who can think strategy, who can organise, and who can manage, who can ask rightly when, what, why and how, who can think fresh, who can think strong, who can think big and think small, who can think public and the private. And most of all leaders who can interlink, who can think, feel and create a togetherness that is power, who can create an empowerment that is liberating and who can create the happiness that is our goal. And these new leaders will come from the young, from the thinking, from the sensitive, from new parts of the globe, providing us with the energy, the inspiration and the human face of our mission, of our movement; combining those who are careful, correct and credible with those who are fast, flexible and furious - what a combination!

To each his own, and yet, together for all and more.

Yes, we are all consumers, seeking peace, so that humankind can meet the basic needs for food – that consumers can live – for clothing, shelter, health care, education. And saying no, no, no to the madness that wastes, trillions on armaments and gives only a fraction for basic needs, for eliminating poverty, and generating happiness. No, no, no to those distorted, sick, misplaced priorities the hypocrisy, the posturing, that prevents happiness. Yes we all consumers, and we must demand:

‘No’ to violence, ‘No’ to manipulation, ‘No’ to waste.

Let us demand that we move from war economies to peace economies, that we move from the creation of the forces of destruction to the creation of the instruments of life. Let us demand an end to the commercial terrorism that lets killer products and processes run wild. Let us demand an end to all tobacco promotion and other killing madnesses. Let us demand, let us also care, let us also act. We, the consumers are in the center of the economy. We, in IOCU are in centre of this movement. Let us use this power to transform, to humanise, to bring real happiness to (real) people everywhere.

Yes, we are all consumers, brothers and sisters. Five billion consumers, together, stronger and getting stronger, transforming the marketplace, multiplying our strength in power. Make bureaucratic and corporate power more transparent and accountable, laying bricks but also building a new consumer  order, issuing global report cards on errant corporations, on errant governments, through the heat of action, through the pressure of organisation, through the logic and rationale of the science of consumers, by consumers, for consumers. But most of all create the future, not just on the power of buying, but also on the power of not buying, expressing our conscience, our preference saying, no, no, no when we must.

Yes, we are all consumers getting back to basics. Needs are always first, and desires later and why not together? Certainly  - but we need real freedom to choose,

Not one that masquerades, proxy for exploitation and manipulation, justifying terrorism in the marketplaces, the colonisation of our minds, and of our stomachs. We serve, we advocate, but most of all we empower. We empower ordinary people through information, skills, solidarity, to seek, to have access to a dignified and fuller life. We are a force for human rights, a force for social justice, a force for better, new, kinder, and happier world. We rise from one ocean, we drink from one water, we breathe one air, we share this earth.

So brothers and sisters, 50 years ago, a consumers’ union was born; it gave life to an idea, it gave spirit to a movement. Today that spirit is strong, that spirit is loud, that spirit is brave, and angry. And that spirit is growing, and growing, and growing.

Back to Speeches