April 2001, No. 39 Deadline for contributions: 20 May 2001

World Consumer Rights Day – 15 March 2001

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World Consumer Rights Day – 15 March 2001

Consumers International, the global federation of over 260 consumer organisations in over 110 countries, today announces its annual World Consumer Rights Day campaign. In the global economy, market power and the influence of corporations has outstripped the capacity of nations to effectively control it. Freedom for industry and corporate activity have not been balanced by adequate safeguards to ensure that companies contribute to, rather than undermine, consumer rights, social development and environmental quality. This year, the global consumer movement, led by Consumers International, is focusing on ways of enhancing the positive contributions, which can be made by transnational corporations, while eliminating the negative ones.

15 March 2001 marks the 19th annual commemoration of World Consumer Rights Day. Activities planned for this year include new, constructive approaches to advancing consumer rights and social justice, such as voluntary initiatives (for example codes of practice). Key targets for action by consumer groups include:

1 Control of tobacco promotion

Around the world, member groups of Consumers International will be campaigning for the development and implementation of tough rules on tobacco control. The World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) stands to be the world's first public health treaty. As such, it is a milestone for humanity as a whole. It has the potential to significantly improve corporate accountability and to reduce tobacco-related deaths. However, the power and influence of the tobacco transnationals is strong and much lobbying by them has left us with a weak draft treaty. For example instead of calling for a ban on all tobacco promotion, only that which is targeted at children is mentioned.
Recent WHO reports have outlined the extent to which tobacco transnational corporations (TNCs) have seen themselves in a battle against the WHO. Tobacco companies planned and implemented global strategies to discredit and impede efforts to protect public health.
Clear measures must be put in the FCTC to counterbalance the powerful tobacco lobby.
Specifically the Convention must ensure that:

  • People and organisations with tobacco interests should disqualify themselves from lobbying on legislation related to tobacco and health, and disclose all other lobbying expenditures and political contributions.

  • Governments, government agencies and political parties should refuse contributions from tobacco interests. There should be transparency about contacts and links between government officials and tobacco interests.

  • Tobacco companies should be held accountable for past, present and future harm caused by their products through legal processes and through other means where appropriate.

  • States, particularly those that host tobacco companies, and international bodies should monitor the national and transnational activities of the tobacco companies.

2 Action on global price-fixing

A second campaign issue for the global consumer movement is to draw attention to the ongoing theft from consumers, by price-fixing cartels. International cartels and global mergers are particularly important.
Consumer groups will seek to ensure that effective action is taken against global price-fixers and that consumers receive adequate compensation for losses sustained. In countries where price-fixing, bid rigging and anti-competitive practices are not unlawful, consumer groups will campaign for the introduction of stringent laws to protect the economic interests of all consumers.

3 The dirty dozen

Consumer groups will publicise the successful results of a twenty-year long campaign to bring about a global ban on the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
In May this year, a new global treaty on POPs will be signed in Stockholm, Sweden. While welcoming the treaty, Consumer Internationals Director General Julian Edwards says: "Consumer groups from around the world must campaign to ensure that in the future, prior to the release of new pesticides into the marketplace, precaution is used as a guiding principle. Precaution, including transparency and public participation, are essential elements in good regulatory practice."
A second goal for consumers will be to ensure that developed countries provide sufficient funding to enable all countries to eliminate stocks of hazardous and obsolete chemicals.

4 Genetically modified foods

The use of biotechnology and other new food technologies may provide important benefits. However, new technologies have raised many concerns for consumers about the safety of foods for human consumption, implications for the environment, and potential social and economic impact.
Consumer groups will be campaigning to ensure that new food technologies do not compromise efforts to achieve food security in the developing world, and the availability of full, factual labelling about nutritional content and any special manufacturing processes the food underwent. Consumers have an absolute right to know when food is the product of genetic engineering.

Consumer groups from around the world will be making efforts to ensure that governments do not give in to pressure from international corporations wishing to impose genetically modified foods on consumers without adequate safeguards and labelling to ensure choice. They are demanding full premarket evaluation and social and safety impact assessments, a moratorium on the cultivation and marketing of new GM foods with effective evaluations in place.

Please contact: Ms. Rinske van Duifhuizen, Phone: 44-20-7226 6663 ext. 236, Mobile: 44-79-4485 2207, Email: rvan-dui@consint.org, Web: www.consumersinternational.org (the World Consumers Rights Day kit is available from this website in English and Spanish).

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