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CSD NGO Steering Committee Statement
on the Review of the "Consumer Guidelines":
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
The CSD should hold a panel discussion on youth's consumption patterns
Thank you, Mr. Co-Chairmen.