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CSD NGO Steering Committee Statement
on the Review of the "Consumer Guidelines": 

Secretary General's Report on Consumer Protection / Guidelines for Sustainable Consumption

presented by Minu Hemmati, UNED-UK, March 4, 1998

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chairmen.

I speak on behalf of the CSD NGO Steering Committee.

We welcome and applaud the Secretary General's Report on Consumer Protection / Guidelines for Sustainable Consumption (E/CN.17/1998/5) as a useful foundation for the continuing discussion on sustainable production and consumption.

The CSD Session 1998 is a very suitable forum to discuss the issue of consumer guidelines: It is closely related to educational issues which are one of the main topics of the CSD 6th Session in April, and it is closely related to the topic of industry as a whole.

We would therefore like to contribute to the timely discussion on consumer guidelines by highlighting five areas which we feel need to be strengthened or introduced in the document:

While the definition of sustainable consumption offered in the Secretary General's Report (Section FF, Paragraph 1) articulates many of the essential elements of such a definition, especially the importance of making "environmentally sound goods" available, it neglects giving the same degree of importance to ensuring that consumer goods are also socially and ethically sound.
Governments should be encouraged to initiate and support the development of an agreed list of criteria indicating social justice and equity throughout the whole process of production and marketing. These criteria should be incorporated in institutional frameworks and certification schemes to introduce mechanisms of Ethical Labeling. The relevant criteria should be drawn from previous international agreements, such as ILO Conventions, Human Rights Conventions, the Beijing Agenda and the presently negotiated ECE Convention on Participation. Also, the development of relevant criteria should take into account labels which already exist, such as the Fair Trade label which has been voluntarily introduced in some European countries. The criteria for Ethical Labeling should include employment and management policies, purchasing policies and practices as well as pricing and marketing strategies.

As a long term goal Governments should aim at developing an Integrated Sustainable Development Labeling System encompassing environmental as well as social criteria. The CSD should utilize the UN system to introduce a monitoring and reporting scheme on Sustainable Development Labeling including annual reports to the CSD.

In the Secretary General's Report (Annex, Section FF19), Governments are encouraged to "take the lead in introducing sustainable practices". Furthermore, the CSD should encourage governments to act as examples with regard to publishing their environmental policies as well as their social policies. Governments should report on their social policies and share their good practices at the UN Special Session in 2000 to review the Copenhagen Agreements on Social Development. This provides an opportunity to link and closely relate processes such as UNCED, the Social Development Summit etc. which have not been adequately linked to date.

As encouraged in the Secretary General's Report, "each government should set its own priorities and timebound targets for the protection of consumers" (Section II, Paragraph 2.). Governments should always adopt the highest international standards. In particular, Governments should be encouraged to share and exchange with other governments and the public about possible approaches, mechanisms and institutional frameworks for the protection of consumers. In the long term, Governments should aim at developing with all relevant stakeholders common sets of strategies towards consumer protection and enabling well informed consumers' choices.

The CSD should at its 1999 Session organize a workshop providing a forum for Governments to share their national experiences, inter alia with regard to advertising and independent information services.

With regard to educational efforts, awareness raising schemes and information services, it is especially important to prioritize women as they make most of the households' consumption decisions. Any of these efforts, schemes and services should be designed, implemented and maintained in close cooperation with women and women's groups. This is to ensure the measures' quality and applicability as well as to ensure that they are not designed to perpetuate the dominating distribution of labour between the sexes. Also, they should be easily accessible and free of charge.

Similarly, it is especially important to target educational efforts, awareness raising schemes and information services at young people. Youth are a significant consumer group in the present and will be in the future. Consumption patterns which they develop today will be the basis of their adult consumption patterns tomorrow. Any efforts, schemes and services targeting youth should be designed as integral parts of education towards sustainable development and as such be incorporated into regular basic curricula.

The CSD should hold a panel discussion on youth's consumption patterns in 1999.

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chairmen.

 

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