Consumer protection remains a cornerstone of development

15 March 2019

UNCTAD marks World Consumer Rights Day with a reminder that faulty products cost lives and dupe families out of much-needed income.

The recent news that unsafe and fake medicines kill hundreds of thousands of children each year is a stark reminder that consumer protection and product safety remain a vital development issue.

Like most goods we buy today, fake drugs are increasingly sold online.

“Today, as we mark World Consumer Rights Day, we’re reminded that the digital economy is creating new opportunities even for those trying to fool us and our loved ones,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi says.

Friendly feud

Some families recently woke up to the costly fact that Facebook was allowing game developers to trick their children into paying to play, according to Reveal.


The digital giant may prefer to internally call the tactic “friendly fraud”, but it’s just consumer abuse with an online spin.

“Governments must be able to protect their citizens as well online as offline,” Dr. Kituyi says. “Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case.”

UNCTAD’s Global Cyberlaw Tracker shows, for example, that just 58% of countries report having data protection and privacy laws. And when it comes to laws protecting consumers online, the share drops to 52%.

This and similar challenges will be discussed at April’s eCommerce Week in Geneva, Switzerland, where new head of Consumers International Helen Laurent is set to speak and fresh data from a global survey on trust in the internet will be released.

Just the tip of the iceberg

But data privacy is just the tip of the iceberg of underlying challenges to consumer protection online, such as getting reimbursed when the product that arrives on someone’s doorstep – if it arrives at all – is broken or different from what was ordered.

Identifying who in the e-commerce chain is responsible can be a daunting task. Is it the platform, the retailer, the payment provider, the transporter? This becomes particularly challenging when it’s a cross-border transaction.

“For too many people around the globe, e-commerce is still ‘click, pay and pray’,” Dr. Kituyi says.

As the focal point for consumer protection issues within the United Nations system, UNCTAD is committed to working with governments to keep legislation up to speed with the new technologies changing the way people and companies do business.

The revised United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection are a valuable set of principles that can help in the endeavor.