“Awake, consumers! Awake!”, exclaimed the President of India, Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, in her opening message to the 31st plenary meeting of the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO) on 27 May 2009, in New Delhi, India.

Opening of the ISO/COPOLCO 2009 plenary in New Delhi, India. From left: Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India; Y.S. Bhave, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India; Sharad Pawar, Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Government of India; Dana Kissinger-Matray, Secretary ISO/COPOLCO; Sharad Gupta, Director-General, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
(Photo: S S Studio)

The President was referring to a media campaign organized in India to raise awareness about consumer matters. Speaking to an audience of over 100 participants from consumer associations, public authorities, businesses and the national standards bodies of some 30 countries, she emphasized: “Consumer protection is of special significance to each of us, as we are all consumers.”

The Indian President highlighted the vulnerability of consumers who, living in a world of rapidly developing technology, often do not have access to full or correct information on new and increasingly complex products.

“Standards play a key role in consumer protection," she said. "For building confidence, more meaningful participation by consumer organizations is required for developing standards both at the national and international levels. Moreover, there is also a need to encourage the implementation of standards concerning consumer safety both at the national and international levels.”

Drawing attention to the standards and guides inspired or developed by ISO/COPOLCO, the President recommended that national governments use them to disseminate information and to empower consumers.

The President also emphasized  the importance of standards in India’s approach to addressing the current global economic crisis. She declared: “Stimulating consumer demand and creating confidence in institutions and markets is one of the focal areas for tackling the situation.

"This requires products that meet standards quality and services that have an assurance of safety… Hence for us, consumer protection is of great significance, both as part of a sound business approach, as well as for achieving the broader goal of national economic growth.”

Referring to the global cross-boundary manufacturing of products, she said: “Countries should look at a coordinated approach to meet the needs of the consumer satisfactorily by developing standards that take into account their concerns.  

“In an interlinked world, it is equally important to expeditiously conclude mutual recognition agreements of standards between countries to promote international trade and to enable faster movement of goods. A common set of accepted standards will avoid unnecessary trade disputes and will be a guide to exporters for supplying standard goods overseas.”

Dana Kissinger-Matray, Secretary of ISO/COPOLCO, spoke on behalf of the ISO President, thanking the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), host of the meeting and ISO member for India. She emphasized the relevance of holding the event in the country, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a consumer pool of over one billion people. “India, our host, is typical of the trends and the progress possible in our interconnected world,” she said.

“Today, services are a major source of economic growth, accounting for more than half of India's output. It is vital, therefore, that India gets increasingly involved in international standardization because of the added value this can bring."

Ms. Kissinger-Matray concluded: "International Standards help ensure technical compatibility across countries and industries and convey information to consumers about products that have been produced abroad, or processes that have taken place in another country. International Standards thus reduce transaction costs and facilitate international trade."

Since the establishment of ISO/COPOLCO in 1978, it identifies consumer interests, issues and concerns for promotion in international standardization. Some recent examples include new work on standards for network services billing, and product recall. It holds an annual plenary meeting to agree on new initiatives, review consumer priorities and plan the roadmap for future progress.