Livemint, September 07, 2023

By Pradeep S Mehta

In spite of the fact that consumer protection did not feature in the G20 deliberations in India this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not allow it to slip through the cracks. Addressing the B20 summit on 27 August, he called for businesses to care for their consumers and also organise an International Consumer Care Day.

Modi’s emphasis on balanced global commerce and consumer-centric policies reflects a comprehensive understanding of the intricate dynamics that drive today’s economies. His address stands out as a distinct and resonating call to reconsider conventional economic frameworks, where the well-being of consumers and nations are often overshadowed by profit-seeking motives.

By extending the principle of equilibrium from the individual level to the international stage, the prime minister has championed a model that not only safeguards the interests of producers and consumers but also envisions nations as active stakeholders in global prosperity.

His word of caution on viewing countries merely as markets carries profound implications. In an increasingly interconnected world where trade and commerce transcend geographical boundaries, the concept of partnership and mutual benefit gains paramount importance.

This approach rejects the short-sighted view of exploiting markets for immediate gains, recognising the potential long-term consequences of such actions. By encouraging equal partnerships among nations in the spirit of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, the prime minister has redefined the idea of global cooperation, shifting from a transactional approach to one founded on shared growth and development.

Empowering consumers and nations: A paradigm shift
The call for businesses to adopt consumer centric practices is also a rational move that resonates with the evolving consumer landscape. Prioritising their interests becomes not only a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity for businesses aiming for sustained success.

Prime Minister Modi’s proposal of an annual campaign dedicated to consumer welfare is a proactive step that underscores his commitment to reinforcing this consumer centric ethos. Here, consumers encompass not just individual end-users, but also entire nations actively participating in the complex web of global trade and consumption of goods and services.

His assertion that businesses genuinely prioritise consumer well-being can mitigate the need for stringent consumer rights advocacy and offer a fresh perspective to address this lapse in the G20 India agenda. Furthermore, his call for reducing the adversarial stance between consumers and businesses resonates with the spirit of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) adopted in 1985. These guidelines have provided a framework for nations to safeguard consumer interests and promote fair and sustainable practices in the marketplace. By prioritising consumer welfare and adopting consumer-centric practices, businesses can align themselves with the principles of the UNGCP.

Furthermore, the current global landscape underscores the urgency of Prime Minister Modi’s proposals. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated vulnerabilities in economic structures, emphasising the need for a renewed focus on consumer protection and well-being. Businesses and nations alike are realising the interconnectedness of their fortunes with the welfare of consumers. In such a context, the call for an ‘International Consumer Care Day’ serves as a beacon of collaboration and shared responsibility in uncertain times.

Fostering consumer protection at the heart of G20 agenda
A few days prior, similar sentiments reverberated strongly during the CUTS Global Webinar titled ‘The G20 Championing the Consumer Movement.’ This significant event, held in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on August 23, 2023 featured speakers from across the globe. The webinar resounded as a resolute call to action, emphasising the urgent necessity to elevate consumer protection as a priority within the G20’s agenda.

In her address, Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD, elucidated the pivotal role of G20 Consumer Summits in proactively addressing consumer protection issues in the context of broader challenges like digital transformation and sustainable transitions.

Grynspan’s call for a consumer summit during Brazil’s upcoming presidency underscores the escalating momentum behind this essential movement. In the past summits, consumer conferences have been organised several times. Her advocacy for the incorporation of consumer protection within the G20 framework aligns seamlessly with PM Modi’s call to re-envision the global economic landscape.

Shaping a harmonious global economy
In a nutshell, Prime Minister Modi’s address at the B20 India’s Summit 2023 signifies a pivotal moment in the ongoing discourse about the role of consumers, nations, and businesses in shaping the global economy. His emphasis on balanced partnerships, consumer-centric practices, and the proposal of an ‘International Consumer Care Day’ reflects a visionary approach that harmonises economic growth with the well-being of all stakeholders.

As we pass through intricate challenges on the path ahead, this paradigm shift towards inclusivity, responsibility, and equitable economic paradigms carries the promise of enduring prosperity for all. Moreover, the imperative now lies in channelling these aspirations into concrete actions. It is with this fervour that the call echoes – to fervently advance the cause of the ‘International Consumer Care Day’ under the G20 banner by India itself. By propelling this movement forward, even prior to the Brazil summit, we can pave the way for its swift adoption, reinforcing the dedication of nations and businesses to the ideals of consumer protection and global harmony.

Pradeep S. Mehta is secretary general of CUTS International. Simi of CUTS contributed to this article.

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