The financial crisis that struck in 2008 ushered in the first contraction in the global economy since the 1930s. Its effects spread very rapidly and widely. The world’s poorest economies were not spared. Despite the policy efforts of leading economies, both developed and developing, the global economy remains fragile.
None of the above seems very controversial, does it? The paragraph could well have been taken from Wikipedia or from a report in a respected newspaper or magazine.
As a matter of fact, it is an almost exact quotation from the draft negotiating text for the 13th Quadrennial Conference of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Doha, Qatar this week.
Yet UN members can't agree on it. In fact, shockingly, the world's leading industrialised economies want to erase each and every reference to the global economic and financial crisis from the text - as if making believe that it never happened.
The same rich countries are also refusing to agree to include references to:
- Energy price volatility and access to renewable energy;
- Access to medicine at affordable prices;
- Environmentally-compatible patterns of production and consumption that safeguard the biosphere;
- Adequate regulation and supervision of financial markets; and
- That foreign investors should comply with the domestic legislative framework of host countries, such as consumer protection law.
This prompted an unprecedented open letter of protest from 49 former UNCTAD staff members earlier this month, and has created an atmosphere of high tension in the intergovernmental negotiations which are ongoing this week.
In partnership with other civil society groups from around the world, CI is in Doha to fight back against this shameful intransigence of the world's rich economies.
We are doing this in two ways: first, by talking to the delegates themselves, and pointing out how their denial of the world's food, energy, climate, financial and development crises is a slap in the face of the world's most disadvantaged consumers.
Second, resigned to the fact that the intergovernmental text may end up as a weak compromise, civil society groups including CI have drafted their own Civil Society Declaration and are presenting it this week.
In that declaration, CI confronts head-on the issues that are too difficult for governments to face. The declaration includes the following paragraph on the topic of consumer protection (for which UNCTAD is the lead agency within the UN system):
UNCTAD should promote consumer rights as part of its mandate over competition and consumer protection issues. Consumers have rights to the satisfaction of basic needs, to safety, to choice, to redress, to information, to consumer education, to representation, and to a healthy environment. It should lead the revision of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection in light of recent trends including the increased exposure of consumers to new products and marketing strategies, increased cross-border commerce in consumer products, and technological changes that affect consumers.
UNCTAD and CI have a long record of working together to advance the rights of consumers, and this will continue despite the attacks from rich countries that UNCTAD is currently enduring.
Its mission to maximise the trade, investment and development opportunities of poor countries fits in well with CI's mission to advance the rights of consumers worldwide. In particular, we will be participating in an UNCTAD meeting to discuss the revision of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection this July.
To find out the ultimate outcome of the negotiations in Doha, or for more information on CI's work at UNCTAD, you can follow CI delegate Jeremy Malcolm's private Twitter account, @qirtaiba, or email him at email@example.com.