Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breaking ground in the fight for consumer rights in Asia Pacific and Middle East

Following the success of World Consumer Rights Day, Indrani Thuraisingham, Head of CI Office for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, explains why it’s an exciting time for the region.


World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is a great opportunity to see the strength of our members in the Asia Pacific and Middle East region. This year, WCRD focused on consumer choice in financial services. Members from more than 23 countries in our region participated in events to mark the occasion.

Even the newly-formed, one-month-old consumer organisation in Afghanistan, the Consumer Rights and Services Organization (CRSO), (who is in the process of applying for CI membership) joined in by having the first-ever WCRD celebration in their country.

I travelled to Bangladesh to celebrate WCRD with the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, a CI member. There are more than seven million Bangladeshis working overseas and these workers often face high charges of between 5% and 20% every time they send money home.

We are working on this issue as part of our Global Money Transfers project.

In Bangladesh, if you want a copy of your bank statement urgently, you would need to pay USD10 for it. If you’re willing to wait up to five days, then you would need to pay only USD3. All this for your own bank account statement!

Our Consumers for Fair Financial Services campaign fighting for this to be something everyone should be entitled to for free.

The following day I was in India where I was one of the guests of honour at CI member Consumers Association of India’s 10th anniversary international conference on the theme, ‘Is the consumer really the king?’ Here I talked about the need for consumer organisations to use Facebook and other social media tools to raise awareness on consumer rights and responsibilities.

Come and ‘like’ CI’s Facebook pageand see how we are using social media to raise awareness of consumer issues around the globe.

The CI regional meeting for Asia Pacific and the Middle East
Our office for Asia Pacific and the Middle East hosted the regional members’ meeting and conference: ‘Consumers in the Information Society: Access, Fairness and Representation’ in Kuala Lumpur. Fifty-one participants representing 37 organisations from 20 countries attended this meeting.

In-depth discussions were held on CI’s new strategic direction for the next four years and the five priority programmes that CI will focus on: financial services, food, consumers in the digital age, sustainable consumption, and consumer protection and legislation. In addition, our new strategy has a renewed focus on organisational empowerment; where CI helps members to help themselves.

Member organisations were reminded to be in continuous communication with CI on their activities in relation to CI’s priority programmes as well as emerging issues and concerns. This gives us the strength as a unified voice to collectively bring changes in terms of policy as well as corporations’ behaviour and practices.

One of these areas was taken up at the conference by CI's Director General Helen McCallum, who delivered a speech on emerging ICT technologies. The speech considered the networks we use to communicate (such as the Internet); the devices we use to do so (such as smartphones and computers); and the rules that regulate content passing through these devices and networks (such as intellectual property rights and privacy law). All of these are major issues for consumers in our region.

This office will work towards building a CI brand that is synonymous with consumer rights and protection. We will encourage and ensure all members from the region belong to at least one priority programme that is relevant to their work.

It’s an exciting time. We will form partnerships with relevant stakeholders to achieve our objective of bringing change, and look for strategic members to further strengthen our presence as the sole global consumer voice championing consumer rights.

We do this work because CI belongs to its member organisations; organisations that are fighting for consumer rights across the Asia Pacific and Middle East region.

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