Consumer protection: Cost of living, digital rights in focus at global meet

Consumer protection meet Nairobi
Consumer protection took centre stage as leaders gather in Nairobi to tackle global challenges and build a future that empowers consumers.

Leaders of consumer organisations, governments, businesses, and civil society convened in Nairobi last week to deliberate on policies, best practices, and accountability measures for consumer protection. The conference, themed ‘Building a Resilient Future for Consumers’, drew approximately 300 delegates from over 100 countries. These delegates primarily consisted of consumer rights advocates and scholars, reviewing consumer protection status worldwide.

The Global Congress, a quadrennial event, is the premier international gathering dedicated to enhancing consumers’ lives. It unites prominent consumer organisations, governments, businesses, civil society, and academia. The Nairobi Congress focused on key consumer issues, including the cost of living, sustainable consumption, energy transitions, food systems, digital rights, and the future of finance.

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Harmonisation of consumer protection laws

Rigathi Gachagua, Deputy President of The Republic of Kenya, emphasised the need for harmonising consumer protection laws during his opening address. He highlighted Kenya’s advancements in e-transaction, cybercrime, and data protection laws to safeguard consumers in both physical and digital realms. Acknowledging the evolving nature of consumer rights violations in the digital age, he advocated for employing Artificial Intelligence to combat consumer exploitation globally.

Gachagua stressed the importance of harmonising global laws and integrating technology to fight illicit trade and consumer exploitation. He called for increased public awareness and advocacy, citing a report by the Kenya Anti Counterfeit Authority on the prevalence of counterfeit goods.

Helena Laurent, Director General of Consumers International, emphasised the necessity of informed consumer choices in the marketplace. She highlighted the ongoing climate and post-pandemic challenges, underscoring the Global Congress’s role in addressing these through shared experiences and actionable solutions.

The event, hosted in Africa for the second time, was in collaboration with the Competition Authority of Kenya and the COMESA Competition Commission. It featured over 20 panel debates, workshops, and plenary sessions with senior representatives from Kenyan, African, and global decision-makers. The Congress covered topics like cost-of-living management, access to essential needs, sustainable living, clean energy transition, and sustainable, healthy food sourcing. It also explored consumer protection in the age of AI and cross-border data flows.

Call for global initiatives

Eminent speakers included Shaka Kariuki, Willard Mwemba, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, Bob Hedges, and Gilly Wong. The Congress fostered joint calls and global initiatives, uniting various sectors against scams, for a better food system, effective redress mechanisms, and amplifying the consumer voice in international dialogues. It also released new consumer insights and shared case studies on innovations in energy and finance systems.

Dr. Adano Roba and Dr. Willard Mwemba expressed pride in hosting the Congress, emphasizing the importance of consumer welfare and protection. The Congress was marked by enthusiastic discussions on diverse topics like scams, AI, greenwashing, and digital wallets. Collaboration emerged as a crucial theme, recognized as essential for amplifying consumer issues and fostering cross-border learning.

Helena Laurent, in the final plenary, underscored the impacts achieved by Consumers International and its members in the past four years. The Congress resolved to focus on topics like empowering consumers in energy transitions, action on Generative AI, new initiatives on data flows and redress, a global alliance on scams, and promoting sustainable consumption.

Marimuthu Nadeshan, re-elected as President of Consumers International, presided over the annual general meeting. As the Honorary Working President of the Consumers’ Protection Association (CPA) from India, I participated in the Congress. CPA conducted a national survey on ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ and ‘Tackling Plastic Pollution,’ sharing its findings during the sessions. Consumers International, with its vast network and influential status, continues to work towards a safe, fair, and sustainable marketplace, addressing key consumer concerns in various sectors.

The 2023 Consumers International Global Congress marked a significant milestone in the global consumer protection movement. The gathering underscored the urgent need for collaborative efforts in addressing the challenges faced by consumers worldwide. Through discussions, insights, and shared experiences, the Congress not only highlighted the current issues in consumer rights but also paved the way for innovative solutions and stronger international cooperation. The initiatives and insights gained from this gathering will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping a more resilient, fair, and sustainable future for consumers across the globe.

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The writer is a public policy analyst and consumer activist. He writes on food safety, road safety, and sustainable consumption.