Consumer protection can help put development goals back on track, UNCTAD chief says

06 December 2023

By empowering and protecting consumers, countries can build a more sustainable and equitable world for present and future generations.

© Shutterstock/courage007 | Consumer protections helps enhance responsible consumption and production.

Prioritizing and bolstering consumer protection is key to getting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) back on track, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan told participants at the Consumers International Global Congress on 6 December in Nairobi.

With only 12% of the SDGs on track, it’s essential to harness the power of markets, particularly in relation to SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production.

“Consumer protection is not just a policy or regulation. It is the armour that shields us all from harm, deception and fraud,” Ms. Grynspan said in a video message.

“It is the foundation upon which trust is built, and it is trust that ultimately fuels the engines of progress and multilateralism.” Read Ms. Grynspan’s statement.

Consumer protection not only safeguards the rights, safety and interests of individuals but also plays a central role in promoting responsible consumption and production, thus contributing significantly to SDG 12.

But UNCTAD’s World Consumer Protection Map shows that only 32 (out of 107) countries have so far enacted consumer protection laws that account for sustainable consumption.

Why consumer protection is key to sustainable consumption

“Sustainable consumption is one of the most important issues facing consumers today,” said Helena Leurent, director general of Consumers International, “and we must ensure it becomes the norm.”

Consumer protection is indispensable for the realization of SDG 12 because it ensures consumers have access to accurate and transparent information about products and services.

This allows them to make well-informed choices that better align with sustainability.

When consumers demand eco-friendly and ethically produced goods, businesses respond by adapting their operations. Consumer preferences can drive industries to reduce waste, conserve resources, adopt cleaner technologies and promote ethical supply chains.

Consumer protection can also help mitigate overconsumption and prevent greenwashing.

In the digital age, protection must extend to online transactions, data privacy and digital services to ensure consumers are not exploited or deceived in the online marketplace.

The power of partnerships

To achieve SDG 12, governments, businesses and civil society must work together to strengthen consumer protection measures. This includes enforcing existing laws, developing new regulations and promoting consumer education and awareness.

Consumer protection agencies and organizations play a vital role in monitoring and enforcing these measures to create an environment where responsible consumption and production are the norm.

During the congress, UNCTAD will host a side event on 8 December on how governments can enhance the consumer movement and support the establishment of independent consumer groups. These discussions will feed into UNCTAD’s intergovernmental deliberations on this topic in 2024.

UNCTAD is the focal point on consumer protection within the United Nations system. It co-leads the One Planet Network Consumer Information for Sustainable Consumption and Production Programme.

The programme implements and supports projects, undertakes research, identifies and promotes policies and provides collaboration opportunities for anyone looking to engage and assist consumers in sustainable consumption.