UNCTAD – Summit puts consumers at the heart of digital innovation

mproving the well-being of our communities and families – one of the most tangible benefits of economic development – requires stronger protection in the digital economy, a global consumer summit in Estoril, Portugal, heard on 2 May.

The summit, whose theme was The Digital Hive, brought together consumer advocacy groups, government agencies trying to keep citizens safe, and companies creating digital products and services.

Though people increasingly buy online the goods they need and want – global e-commerce sales surged 13% to $29 billion in 2019 – most of the laws and regulations protecting us and our privacy were designed for an offline world.

“We need to bring consumers, the digital economy and the Sustainable Development Goals together,” said Helena Leurent, head of Consumers International, which organized the event with Portugal’s consumer protection authority and the Internet Society.

But this won’t happen unless we improve consumer trust online, she said.

According to the 2018 survey CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust, two thirds of people believe social media platforms have too much power. And research presented at the summit shows that 64% of consumers are worried about how devises connected to the internet collect and use their personal data.

Isabelle Durant

International cooperation required

Better protection and trust will require deeper international cooperation on consumer protection, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said in her keynote speech.

“There is growing interest in protecting consumers common to all UN member countries – developing and developed alike – as a means to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Ms. Durant said.

But for international cooperation to be effective, all relevant stakeholders must work together.

“We must engage with governments, consumer groups and businesses to succeed,” she said, adding that partnerships with organizations like Consumers International have proved effective in advancing consumer protection around the world.

João Torres, Portugal’s secretary of state for consumer protection, agreed that a multilateral approach to consumer protection is the most effective.

“In today’s world, consumer protection is about ensuring consumer rights at the national, regional and international levels,” Mr. Torres said.

Global guidelines

The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection currently provide the only global set of recommendations for policymakers and enforcement authorities.

The guidelines were revised in 2015 to include policy options on emerging issues, including e-commerce, financial services, personal data protection, and cross-border and international cooperation.

UNCTAD, as the UN focal point for consumer protection, will host its annual expert meeting on consumer protection law and policy in July to discuss key items on the global development agenda, such as sustainable consumption. The meeting will also assess Indonesia’s voluntary peer review of its consumer protection laws and policies.

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