Consumers International

Recommendations for energy, digital and gender taken forward at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts

To build a safe, fair and sustainable marketplace, joined-up solutions and global, cross-sector collaboration is needed. That’s the message we took to Geneva this week, as Consumers International joined UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy, seventh session.

The Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) is a standing body established under the United Nations Guideline for Consumer Protection to monitor how the guidelines are being applied globally.

We have general consultative status to the UN and the IGE provides a key moment in our global calendar to bring the voices and insight of our Members to international consumer experts and policy-makers. The meeting was particularly relevant to our work this year, with deliberations focussed on key consumer protection areas including consumers in the energy transition, gender and consumer protection, and building trust in digital markets.

Key Moments and Achievements

  • Our advocacy at the IGE’s 6th session helped place ‘consumer protection and the energy transition’ on the agenda for 2023. This year we saw the efforts of that work rewarded. The Group voted to recognise the crucial role that consumers play in the transition to clean energy, and encourage Member States to empower consumers and improve access to clean energy.
  • We successfully lobbied to extend the mandate for the working group on consumer protection and gender, of which Consumers International is a member.
  • We saw recognition of consumer protection risks in the digital space, including protecting consumers on online platforms and e-commerce.
  • As the membership organisation for over 200 consumer organisations around the world, we were pleased to see the Group acknowledge the importance of consumer groups and call for greater support, opportunities and frameworks to raise the consumer voice in global dialogue. Next year, the eighth session will explore how governments can support consumer associations. Consumers International will be closely involved in co-designing these sessions.

Securing recognition of the importance of consumers in clean energy transitions

The energy transition will only succeed with the buy-in and participation of consumers – and if the clean energy systems of the future adequately meet consumers’ diverse needs. Last year, we lobbied UNCTAD Member States on this issue to secure a high-level discussion at this year’s IGE. It passed, and this week we joined a roundtable on ‘consumer protection and the transition to clean energy” to discuss how consumer protection and empowerment can help tip the scales on the energy transition. Sharing key findings and recommendations from our White Paper on Consumer protection and empowerment for a clean energy‘, we argued that key transition enablers – electrification efficiency, digitalisation and decentralisation – all depend on consumer action. But consumers can only participate in these solutions if current barriers – from unaffordable appliances, to unreliable claims, to a lack of adequate maintenance – are removed at all stages of their purchase journey.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK? With influence by Consumers International, this year UNCTAD Member States voted unanimously to recognise the ‘crucial role that consumers play in the transition to clean energy’ and to encourage leaders to ’empower consumers to make sustainable and informed decisions’ and ‘improve consumers’ access to clean energy’. In practice, this means a step change in collaboration between consumer protection and energy stakeholders at national and international levels.

WHAT NEXT? We will take up this call to action by convening a new, global multi-stakeholder group called CLEAN, uniting consumer advocates and policy-makers with leading energy stakeholders from government and business. This collaborative initiative will identify consumer protection pressure points – pinpointing where policies, standards, or codes can be strengthened to guarantee consumer trust and confidence through the transition.

Integrating Gender Equality Goals with consumer Protection

To date, the walls that separate gender and consumer protection have been too high. By bringing them down, we can unlock better protection for women and reap rewards for gender equality. The marketplace perpetuates harmful gender norms through unsafe products, bias and exclusion by design, and the reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes through consumer information and advertising.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK? We stressed the importance of seeing gender inclusion as necessary and strategic to strengthening consumer protection, as well as for the advancement of gender goals, highlighting how we will focus on gender and consumer protection at our Global Congress later in the year.

As negotiations closed, we welcomed the Group’s decision to renew the mandate of the working group on consumer protection and gender, a decision we lobbied for with Member states. We were also pleased to see many Member States raising the importance of integrating gender into consumer protection.

WHAT’S NEXT? As a member of the working group, we will bring the insights and experiences of our Members to discussions as the group’s work continues. In the year ahead, we will be investigating key issues in this area, including sexist advertising, ‘fem washing’, product safety, inclusion by design, the ‘pink tax’ and financial discrimination. We will also work through our Fair Digital Finance Accelerator to ensure that technological advancements in digital financial services are not holding women back from financial inclusion.

Working towards a digital future consumers can trust

Strong consumer protections are needed for a digital future which guarantees trust, safety and fairness for consumers. Currently, we’re seeing digital risks – such as inadequate data governance, under-developed global frameworks for cross-border data flows, manipulative designs and content, and blurred boundaries between the physical and virtual economy – which are undermining consumer trust and posing risks to the rights and welfare of consumers worldwide.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK? With policy-makers focussing on ‘building trust in the digital space’ we successfully lobbied for a number of recommendations which were taken forward, including; recognising that protecting consumers on online platforms is critical to building trust in digital markets, enhancing consumer protection on online platforms, and renewing the working group on consumer protection in e-commerce, with a focus on dark patterns and consumer vulnerability.

WHAT’S NEXT? At Consumers International we are building a fair, inclusive and trusted digital ecosystem for consumers by mobilising our Members, influencing stakeholders, and collaborating with partners to advocate for digital consumer rights, address harmful practices, and implement meaningful protections. In the year ahead, we will explore how we can rethink online review systems to foster greater trust in e-commerce, and work with a wide range of stakeholders to advance thinking around manipulative digital patterns.

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