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7 December 2023

Fair, Safe and Sustainable – Day 1 of Consumers International Global Congress

By Chandni Gupta

(Reproduced from CFA)

The Consumers International Congress 2023, held in beautiful Nairobi, Kenya, kicked off its first day with a stellar consumer protection agenda. Officially opened by the Deputy President of Kenya, His Excellency Rigathi Gachagua, E.G.H, the theme of building a resilient future for consumers was well and truly alive through the panel discussions and the conversations throughout the day. Below are some of the highlights from an action-packed Day 1!

Consumers and Generative AI

We took a deep dive into the impact of Generative AI on consumers where the panel brought both hope and caution. While accepting that AI is present in all our lives, there was much discussion on the lack of accuracy, prevalence of misinformation and prominence of deep fakes, which can exacerbate the impact of scams or as U.S.A. Fair Trade Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter put it – “turbo charge fraud”. Enforcement was one of the solutions discussed noting the importance of enforcement teams including specialised technologists that have the capability to probe the backbone of the technology and specifically “look under the hood”.

 

Cost of living and food for thought

Consumers worldwide are feeling the cost of living pressures. These pressures mean consumers are sourcing affordable food, and affordable food often means purchasing packaged food that is overly processed, and high in oil and sugar content. Access to Nutrition’s Greg Garrett reported that 70% of packaged food is unhealthy. It’s not about consumer awareness – people know what’s good for them; they just can’t afford it. Solutions discussed included investment in agriculture, retail transparency, labelling, outright ban on marketing unhealthy foods to children and supporting SMEs and local food systems.

Pledge towards product safety

Moderated by Australia’s Consumer Policy Research Centre’s CEO Erin Turner, product safety in the online marketplace generated an engaging conversation between the panel and the audience. Quote of the session, and potentially of the day came from Manorama Mathur Dabidin of the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Protection, Government of Mauritius, “What is considered unsafe in one country should be considered unsafe everywhere”. The product safety pledges with online marketplaces that have been implemented across various jurisdictions, including Australia, have made markable improvements in reducing the number of unsafe products sold online but as OECD’s last online sweep revealed, 87% of banned or recalled products were still available online. There’s still more to be done in this space. Harmonising product safety obligations is one solution followed by incorporating product safety obligations for online marketplaces (as the EU is doing now) may now be the natural next step. Looking forward, OECD’s Jan Tscheke closed the discussion noting there to not be the trade-off between sustainability and safety.

Data, privacy and digital finance

The final two sessions touched on privacy and digital finance and common denominator between the two was data. Noting that data is what drives the digital economy, how do we harness it in a way that gives meaningful choice and agency back to the consumer? Recognising that it’s clear across studies worldwide that consumers are concerned about privacy, how do we mobilise this concern? The onus to date has rested mainly on the shoulders of consumers, whether it’s navigating their privacy or engaging with digital finance. For example, in countries such as Fiji, the lack of regulatory action has meant consumer groups have to lean on consumer education and when things go wrong (e.g. scams) often the blame is passed straight to the consumer. Digital transparency from the consumer means the supply side can take advantage of this via what is offered and at what price.

It was clear across both panels that the status quo can no longer remain as the norm. Looking through the lens of digital inclusivity, panels discussed the importance of protecting consumers beyond information disclosures. As Mastercard’s Shamina Singh said, “If you don’t get what you paid for, there should be recourse”. Inclusivity also included the thought-provoking comment by BEUC’s Agustín Reyna who noted that nothing to date has been as inclusive as cash and the next step is to consider what is created in the digital finance world that brings all consumers along on the journey.

And that’s a wrap for Day 1! If you’re keen to follow the discussions live, check out the virtual attendance options via the Programme – Consumers International.

All images source: Consumers International

Deputy CEO & Digital Policy Director

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