Consumers chart a course for the UN Guidelines
New innovative proposals to promote consumers' interests in Access to Knowledge (A2K) have emerged from a global meeting of consumers to consider amendments for the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
The meeting held on 3 May, which brought together almost 50 world experts and consumer group representatives, approved a range of proposed amendments already developed by a CI working group, and also produced some excellent new suggestions, including:
- An amendment to an existing provision that relates to the use of international safety symbols on products. The amendment would also require the producer to make safety information freely and accessibly available to the consumer after purchase.
- A new section that calls on those responsible for the development of laws and non-statutory instruments such as standards and codes of practice that relate to consumer protection, to make those freely and accessibly available.
The discussion in the afternoon session built on the presentations of an eminent panel of experts during the morning, whose presentations are available for download below. Following an introduction by Jeremy Malcolm, the following presentations were given:
- Robin Brown, a consumer protection expert from Australia, spoke on The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection: Making them Work in Developing Countries. As the title suggests, Robin sees the future of the Guidelines in ensuring that they can achieve benefits for consumers in the developing world, whilst still taking account of the realities of consumer policy. This may include adding new provisions on resourcing of consumer organisations, separately to the A2K amendments. Robin has also prepared a draft paper expanding upon his presentation, on which he welcomes comments.
- Hassan Qaqaya of UNCTAD spoke on Promoting Access to Knowledge through the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, and the UN Code for the Control of RBPs. He explained how A2K would fit into the UN Guidelines, and explained how intellectual property rights and consumer rights require careful balancing. He suggested that competition law may be an under-utilised tool in achieving such balance. Just as a court can override property rights in ordering open access to essential facilities, so too a court could override intellectual property rights in similar cases.
- Shirish Deshpande of Indian member MGP spoke on Consumer Advocacy and the 8 Consumer Rights, going through each of the existing rights one by one and giving examples of how it has been implemented in India, giving a frank assessment of both successes and areas where more work is needed. He too provided ideas about the future of the Guidelines beyond the A2K amendments, including the possibility of moving parts of the Guidelines into a Convention.
The amendments discussed at the meeting will soon be incorporated into a rolling draft of the new draft Guidelines, which are available online for review and comment.
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