13 MARCH 2002

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World Consumer Rights Day – Voices for change

Joseph Schembri - Director of Information and Client Affairs at the Consumer and Competition Division – speaks of the consumers’ right to representation and other related issues, to mark World Consumer Rights Day next Friday

Voices for Change is the theme chosen by Consumers International for this year's World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) and it focuses on the consumer right to representation. Its main message is simple: people should have influence in the making of decisions that affect their access to basic needs and their quality of life.

Representation of consumers interests is essential to creating effective consumer policy, alongside appropriate regulations and empowerment of individuals through consumer education and information. Representation is a critical component of good governance, ensuring that consumers are involved in policy-making at national, regional and international levels.

Among the consumer rights enunciated in 1962 by US President John F. Kennedy and subsequently expanded upon by Consumers International is the right to representation or the right to be heard. "Consumers, by definition, include us all", said Kennedy. "they are the largest economic group… affecting, and affected by, almost every public and private economic decision. … But they are the only important group … whose views are often not heard."

The right to representation
Effective consumer representation ensures that the needs of all people are taken into account in the formation of policies that directly affect their lives. By magnifying the voice of the individual, representation contributes to good governance and the achievement of social justice. It affords better and more durable decisions. The 1985 United Nations guidelines for Consumer protection - one of the first milestones of the consumer movement in getting its voice heard at the international level and it calls on governments to facilitate the formation of consumer organisations and to provide them with opportunities to present their views in the decision-making processes affecting them. Consumer associations have used these guidelines to promote legislation enabling them to seek representation in the courts, in the law-making process and in the implementation of regulatory programmes.

Who is a Consumer Representative?
A consumer representative is a member of a government, professional body, industry or non-governmental organisation committee who voices the consumer perspective and takes part in the decision-making process on behalf of consumers. Ideally this person is nominated by an organisation of consumers, and is accountable to it. According to the Consumer Health Foundation of Australia, the role of a consumer representative involves:
_ Protecting the interests of consumers;
_ Presenting how consumers may feel and thing about certain issues;
_ Ensuring that the committee, agency or regulator recognises consumer concerns;
_ Reporting the activities of the committee to consumers;
_ Ensuring accountability to consumers;
_ Providing information about any relevant issues affecting consumers.

Consumer representatives speak with a collective voice as members of a consumer organisation, community or public interest group. The key issue is knowing one's constituency and understanding what it means to be a representative. It is essential to know which consumers you serve, including any groups or minorities within those consumers who may have different needs or views from the majority.

The year 2002 marks the 20th commemoration of World Consumer rights Day. It was observed on March 15, 1983, and has since become an important occasion for mobilising citizen action. Consumer organisations around the world use materials produced by Consumers international, such as Voices for Change, to generate local initiatives and media coverage often forming the basis for work over the coming year. Recent themes promoted by Consumers International for WCRD include: genetically modified foods (2000), assessment of consumer rights (1999), poverty alleviation (1998) and sustainable consumption (1997).

The eight basic rights celebrated by World Consumer Rights Day are:
_ Satisfaction of basic needs
_ Safety
_ Information
_ Choice
_ Representation
_ Redress
_ Consumer Education
_ A Healthy Environment

As done in previous years, Malta joins other countries worldwide to celebrate this event. The slogan adopted by the Consumer and Competition Division related to the one chosen by Consumers International is "Le]nek Iwassal!" which signifies consumer's right to be heard. An activity which became synonymous with this event is the one organised at the Ballroom of the Hotel Phoenicia, Le Meridien. During this activity students who participated in consumer competitions through the monthly school magazine Saghtar and the newsletter Taghna it-Tfal will be presented with prizes by the Hon. Dr George Hyzler, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry for Economic Services responsible for consumer affairs.
Therefore our appointment is for 15 March, 2002, at 6.00 p.m. at the Hotel Phoenicia, Le Meridien.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt