Consumers Unite: you have nothing to lose but your inhibitions


I  made a shame-faced confession at last month’s Consumers International World Congress in balmy Brasilia – in front of seven hundred consumer activists from round the world, the admission that I had never heard of their organisation.  But that state of ignorance isn’t going to last much longer I suspect. For under the dynamic leadership of its new Director General, Amanda Long, this hitherto somewhat retiring organisation is leaping into the global limelight. Look out for Consumers International!

The CI Congress in Brasilia was the first conference I’ve moderated where Panel Discussions were banished in favour of  Interactive Discussions. So why did ditching the word ‘panel’ for ‘interactive’ matter? Well, what happened was that all the plenary sessions positively encouraged contributions from the delegates – not just questions but comments too – rather than the token few minutes reserved for questions from the floor at most conferences. This really made a difference to the way delegates took ownership of the discussions and turned each plenary session into a giant conversation in the airy plenary hall. Indeed my confession popped out during an especially free-flowing  and energetic plenary  on how consumers associations can work together to have more impact globally. This is a key existential question for consumers associations at a time when their traditional MO is under threat from  web-based peer-exchange platforms. During the course of the next two days there was a palpable shift – or so it seemed to me – in favour of more collaborative engagement at an international level, as championed by Marta Tellado from the US, Bart Combee from the Netherlands, Alan Kirkland from Australia and so many other voices from the floor. Was this shift in thinking linked to the interactive, democratic style of the Congress? I’d like to think so.

Especially striking was the emphatic endorsement by the Congress of  two pretty radical moves by CI into the arena of international campaigning. The first, the launch of a ‘People’s Charter for the Internet’ aims to harness the lobbying power of several hundred consumer associations to ensure that the promise of the internet is not exploited by giant multinationals . (See the CI blog for  more: The second campaign came as a complete surprise to everyone at the Congress, an ambitious effort spearheaded by CI to get the three largest fast food chains McDonalds. Subway and KFC to stop the use of antibiotics in their meat and chicken. Again the aim is to use the lobbying power of hundreds of consumers associations round the world to pressure these giant restaurant multinationals to respond to an issue of huge international concern.

So I’ll end by saying good luck to CI and its efforts to create a more powerful voice for consumers round the world. After all, rich or poor, we’re all consumers one way or the other.


8 responses to “Consumers Unite: you have nothing to lose but your inhibitions”

  1. Amanda Long says:

    Thanks Nisha! We’ve had fantastic feedback in the event from across the globe….really pleasing…now to keep working together to deliver the shift!

  2. mikael zoghbi says:

    This seems yet another example of how consumers, in this case the delegates themselves, are becoming more important and influential in taking control of their destiny, in this case the running of the event itself. Part of the global shift from the power of the hierarchy to the power of the individual. That’s pretty neat!

  3. Aliya says:

    I agree – it’s good to see that CI is showing consumers they can put pressure on Fast Food giants to implement better practices. Great blog Nisha Masi!

  4. Debbie Capon says:

    I also had not heard of CI but am delighted to be introduced to them by the superb writings of Nisha Pillai. I myself am passionate about food and believe everyone has the right to eat healthily, so was particularly interested in the comment about the second campaign against anti biotics in fast food. I also would like to wish CI good luck and loved the way Nisha summed up her blog as she is so right saying we are all consumers be we rich or poor.

  5. Antonino Serra Cambaceres says:

    Thanks a lot Nisha, you were a very important part of CI’s World Congress success, I have no doubt about this. The dynamics you put in the sessions delivered a lively and really interactive exchange, where all people attending found themselves as a part of what was happening and the outcome. I felt that future was (and is) there for us to catch, and I hope that you can be around to help the consumer movement to benefit from this momentum.

  6. Amber Beard says:

    I am horrified that fast food chains are STILL using antibiotic fed meat which is a huge concern when you consider that fast food is traditionally eaten by young people. Food for thought indeed Nisha!

  7. Tony says:

    Nisha, you made CI’s World Congress a lively and interactive forum where all participants were part of discussions and became not mere listeners but active actors.
    The shift of our inhibitions has just started as well as your interest in consumer matters, so I am sure the next steps will find all of us walking together.

  8. This sounds like a fantastic conference to have moderated, especially with antibiotic misuse in the meat industry being such a topical and significant issue! (I have written an article about it myself here:

    Consumers should indeed be encouraged to have a say in what they are fed, rather than letting agricultural lobbies make the rules and be given free-rein to cause serious health and environmental issues. The overuse of antibiotics by the meat and dairy industries is a huge problem that only very few consumers are actually aware of — you mention people at the Congress being surprised by this campaign!

    Let’s hope that CI will manage to rally consumers to this important cause and many others (such as the mislabelling of products as “humane” or “free-range” when they are not) As you rightly state, all consumers deserve to know exactly what they are supporting! (And of course, ensuring that the internet remains a public resource — the first campaign you mention — is also a vital part of that)

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