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News Commentary to mark the World Consumer Rights Day 2020: 15 March 2020

PROMOTING HUMAN HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY THROUGH SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION

The World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on 15 March every year. It is a day set aside by the United Nations for the international community to address consumer issues. This event which was first celebrated globally in 1983 has been boosted by concerted efforts of Consumers International, a federation of consumer organisations and agencies from different parts of the world.

Nigeria has been pursuing the goal of consumer protection through the enactment of laws and establishment of regulatory agencies. Prominent agencies in this regard include the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, Nigerian Communications Commission, Central Bank of Nigeria and National Information Technology Development Agency. Indeed, almost every sector of the Nigerian economy is regulated by a dedicated agency. Additionally, Nigeria possesses numerous consumer protection laws which give specific rights to consumers of products and services.

Consumer issues are, however, not static and have in recent times greatly expanded due to the influence of technology and globalisation. This has made it imperative for countries to extend protection to areas of contemporary concern. One such area is sustainable consumption. To address this problem, the global community is focusing on ‘The Sustainable Consumer’ as the theme of the World Consumer Rights Day 2020. This theme aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 which focuses on sustainable consumption and production patterns.   

According to the United Nations, sustainable consumption and production is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, access to basic services, decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Sustainable consumer is a variant of this concept and refers to the behavioral patterns of consumers towards the supply chain, choice of products and services and disposal of wastes.  

There is no doubt that many countries are yet to attain the state of sustainable consumption. The United Nations has noted that worldwide, material consumption has expanded rapidly, as has material footprint per capita, seriously jeopardizing the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 12 and the Goals more broadly. The Organisation stresses the need for urgent actions to ensure that current material needs do not lead to the over-extraction of resources or degradation of environmental resources.

Sustainable consumption involves the active participation of producers and consumers as the main actors and the government as the law and policy maker. The role of the producer includes choice of products and services to offer to consumers, determination of durability cycle, resource efficiency, compliance with standards and provision of relevant information to consumers.

Sustainability entails that producers adopt the circular economy model which aims at designing waste and pollution out of the system.  Use of recyclable and reusable materials is a component of this model.

On the other hand, consumers can influence sustainable consumption through rational choice of products and services. Reading and being guided by product labels is part of the qualities of a sustainable consumer. Nigeria has labelling regulations for different products. Examples are Pre-Packaged Food, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations and Drugs and Related Products Labelling Regulations issued by NAFDAC in 2019 which make labelling a mandatory requirement.

Environmental protection is a crucial factor that is correlated with sustainable consumption. A global challenge in this regard is the incredible volume of wastes generated around the world. As reported by the World Bank, the world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with at least 33 percent not managed in an environmentally safe manner. According to the report, global waste is expected to grow to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050, more than double population growth over the same period.

 

The situation is even more worrisome as regards plastics. TheNational Geographic Society reports that around the world nearly one million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute, and more than five trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans.

 

One activity that impacts negatively on the environment is reckless disposal of wastes. The Federal Ministry of Environment has tried to curb this menace through the issuance of the National Environmental (Sanitation and Wastes Control) Regulations 2009 aimed at achieving environmental sanitation and waste management to minimise pollution. The Regulations prohibit dropping of refuse anywhere except in designated litter bins.Owners or occupiers of premises are mandated to provide waste receptacles for storage before collection by licensed waste managers. Special provisions and sanctions are stipulated for control and disposal of hazardous waste. An obligation is imposed on licensed waste managers to transport wastes in vehicles that are in such a state that will not cause the waste to scatter, escape, flow out or emit noxious smell in the course of transportation.

In addition, Nigeria has been operating a mandatory impact assessment of public and private projects to ensure that activities that are likely to produce adverse effects on the environment are not approved.

Attainment of sustainable consumption requires the active involvement of all stakeholders – government, producers and consumers. Government must institute and effectively implement laws and policies that help to realise the desired goals. Producers must see the application of sustainability principles not from the angle of legal compliance but as a business ethics that safeguards present and future generations. Consumers can influence the overall system by making rational and informed decisions regarding products and services. Actions and behaviours that promote human health and environmental safety must be embraced.  These include eating locally grown food with less animal products; purchasing reusable products; avoiding unsafe products; and adopting proper waste disposal methods. Intensive enlightenment campaign is critical to empower the consumer to operate as a sustainable consumer.  

 

Professor Felicia Monye

Faculty of Law,

University of Nigeria,

Enugu Campus.

President, Consumer Awareness Organisation