Time to empower consumers to make sustainable choices

15 March 2022

Governments, consumer groups and businesses urged to step up efforts to allow consumers to play their part in sustainable development.

World Consumer Rights Day 2022

Meeting the needs of present and future generations for goods and services in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable is ever more urgent amid the climate and COVID-19-induced economic crises.

Shifting to responsible consumption and production patterns can not only lead to more efficient resource use but also reduce pollution, restore ecosystems and prevent habitat loss.

To mark World Consumers Rights Day on 15 March, UNCTAD brought together policymakers, businesses and consumer groups to share experiences in fostering sustainable production and consumption and promoting business and consumers responsible behaviour.

“We must move away from the notion of consumers as passive receivers of goods and services towards that of a consumer that is an actor for change,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan while opening the event.

Pandemic fuels sustainability quest

Respondents to a recent survey conducted by UNCTAD on the implications of COVID-19 for trade in biodiversity-based products witnessed marked increases in the demand for products that are perceived as being ethical and/or sustainable since the advent of the pandemic.

Empowering consumers requires a concerted effort to inform and educate them to take sustainable decisions and the UN guidelines for consumer protection provide concrete recommendations on how to do so.

International standards and information exchange that is concise and consistent can play a decisive role, said Elizabeth Tuerk, director of economic cooperation and trade at the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

Consumers worldwide use 29% of global energy and are responsible for 21% of the world’s CO2 emissions, hence they can play a big role in efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

For sustainable consumption to happen, the other side of the coin is providing consumers with sustainable choices.

“The most effective way to incentivize businesses towards responsible and sustainable production is to show the benefits it brings and to provide clear guidance such as UNCTAD’s BioTrade Principles and Criteria,” said Lara Koritzke from the non-profit association, Union for Ethical BioTrade.

Consumer policy a powerful instrument

“As the focal point within the United Nations on consumer protection issues, we recognize the promotion of sustainable consumption as a fundamental part of consumer policy and a priority for UNCTAD,” said Teresa Moreira, head of competition and consumer policies at UNCTAD.

The Bridgetown Covenant adopted by UNCTAD member states in October 2021 calls for a transformation towards a more sustainable and resilient economy, which requires strong political will, as well as coordination and actions, involving the full participation of all relevant actors at all levels.

Ms. Grynspan called upon all actors to rise to the challenge of empowering consumers for sustainable consumption.

“Let us give consumers the voice and the power they need and deserve. They are our greatest allies to multiply our efforts for sustainable development,” she concluded.