The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S W A T C H

Consumers Plan to Get Tough on Multinationals

For 21 years the International Organization of Consumer Unions (IOCU) has been meeting to coordinate the activities of consumer advocacy groups, most of them located in the developed nations. Member groups are sponsored by their governments, or, as in the case of the Consumers Union of U.S. Inc., by public membership. Many of these organizations have built their reputations around their role as evaluators of rival brand-name consumer durables. But now IOCU plans to involve itself more in international corporate activities by establishing an "Interpol" of consumer affairs and, possibly, a "world consumer court."

Delegates from 36 nations met in The Hague last month for IOCU's 10th World Congress, and agreed to ask the United Nations to set up the "Interpol" communications network which will warn countries of hazardous products on the international market. At the conference, Prince Claus of the Netherlands donated approximately U.S.$40,000 for development of such a network.

The Congress also approved a plan to establish a three-year working group on multinational corporations - to publicize threats to consumer interests worldwide. Delegates agreed to "consider" setting up an international forum for consumer grievances, perhaps in the form of a "world consumer court."

Two internal reforms, designed to loosen the grip of the developed, wealthy nations on IOCU's operations, were proposed by Allan Asher of the Australian Consumers Association.

Asher argued that:

  • The IOCU headquarters should be moved from The Hague to Penang, Malaysia, which is currently the site of the organization's only regional office and the home-base of IOCU president Anwar Fazal; and that
  • IOCU's voting system be reformed to enfranchise all affiliated organizations since the current ruling Council is effectively controlled by developed countries (who contribute most of the budget).

Intense lobbying and even legal action is expected between now and the Council's next meeting in August, in an attempt by The Hague office to retain its pre-eminent position.

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