Every year 15th March is celebrated as the World Consumer Rights Day. It is an annual occasion for action, solidarity and celebration within in the consumer movement. It commemorates a historic declaration of four basic consumer rights made by former US President John F. Kennedy on March 15, 1962.
That declaration eventually led to international recognition by government and the United Nations in its landmark Guidelines for Consumer Protection of 1985, that all citizens, regardless of their incomes or social standing, have basic rights as consumers.
The theme of this year’s World Consumer Rights Day was “Corporate Citizenship in the Global Market – Accountability and the Consumer Perspective”.
Corporate citizenship concerns the changing relationship of business and society. More than consumer, employee and supplier trust, or even broad stakeholder involvement, it encompasses the positive and negative aspects of corporate integration into society. Corporate citizenship goes to the heart of the UN Secretary General’s appeal for global business and multinational corporations to honour their social responsibility and moral duty.
The campaign for corporate accountability involves the collection of information by civil society. Consumer groups and NGOs are developing tools and methodologies that are enabling them to carry out a stronger monitoring, information dissemination and policy-making role. Shaping corporate conducts through direct action or indirectly, via governments, is a long-standing objective of consumer advocacy.
Keeping this in mind and taking into consideration the theme of this year’s World Consumer Rights Day, on 18th March 2001, a one-day workshop of consumer organisations of Rajasthan was organised at Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
To deliberate on basic issues of corporate responsibility and how are they linked to poverty eradication from consumers’ perspective, particularly rural consumers, so as to evolve and take forward well-argued viewpoints and concerns on corporate governance and poverty eradication in rural areas of a developing country to the development community at large.
More that 60 participants representing grassroots consumer organisations from all over the state participated in the event. Representatives from the Rajasthan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation (an organisation formed by the Lupin Group of Companies, manufacturing phamaceutical products) were also present.
The workshop focused on:
- corporate responsibility and consumer protection from a global perspective;
- corporate accountability from the perspectives of rural consumers;
- tools for action;
- what the industry could do to fulfill their moral and social responsibilities, vis-à-vis consumers and poverty alleviation; and
- what the industry has been doing – a case study by an industrial house representative.
Speaking at the inaugural Secretary General of CUTS, Pradeep S. Mehta deliberated on the importance of corporate accountability in the changing global scenario and its implications for the welfare of common consumer.
P. Biyani, Deputy Secretary, Department of Food and Consumer Affairs, Government of Rajasthan graced the occasion as Chief Guest. He spoke on the problems that common consumers are facing in their day to day life. He expressed his desire to provide all kinds of help to grassroots consumer organisations for taking up issues for the welfare of common consumer, particularly those from weaker and disadvantaged sections of the society.
Bipul Chatterjee, Associate Director of CUTS spoke on globalisation, liberalisation, economic reforms and corporate accountability. He argued that unless consumer welfare is enhanced economic reforms will not show desired results, and also the role that consumer organisation, particularly the grassroots one, can and should play vis-à-vis the changing economic scenario in the country.
Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Assistant Director of CUTS informed the participants on various tools that can be used while making companies more accountable towards peoples’ welfare. Taking example of various advocacy strategies and tools that CUTS has been developed over the years, he explained the issues relating to corporate accountability in detail.
R. S. Pareekh, Adviser to the Rajasthan Chamber of Commerce and Industry deliberated on various aspects of corporate accountability, what does it mean, how consumer organisations can play its role to make it more effective etc.
Preeti Sharma of the Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation presented a case study on various welfare activities that the Foundation has been doing in select districts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. She explained the steps required for making villages self-sufficient with respect to their needs and how to ensure synergies between various objectives of the industry and the people.
The afternoon session of the workshop was devoted to panel discussion. After discussing the issues in detail, the participants came up with the following recommendations and mandated CUTS to take them forward:
- consumer organisations should advocate with business chambers and other stakeholders to make them more responsible towards social and economic needs of community at large;
- the process of globalisation, liberalisation and economic reforms should take into account the need of the poor consumers as consumer welfare is synonymous with national welfare and consumers’ interest must be protected while considering national interest; and
- consumer organisations should prepare and disseminate reader-friendly documentation on globalisation, liberalisation, economic reforms and their linkage with corporate accountability.