As we conclude the World Consumer Rights celebrations for 2018, under the theme ‘Making digital market places fairer’, the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) encourages all advocates for consumer rights to increase their involvement in its work activities. This will provide our consumers with a fair opportunity to make the market place fairer. Over the years, consumers have gravitated towards using the digital market place to purchase products mainly because of its convenience, access to the wide range of products available globally and the ability to select products based on the most reasonable price. In addition, the availability of product reviews by past consumers provides useful guidance during online product selection and ensures that consumers get value for money.
Consumers can therefore make valuable contributions to the standardisation process based on their experiences with the wide range of products and services. The data obtained from these experiences can be used as justifiable reasons for developing standards to streamline a product, service or sector. As the National Standards Body, the GNBS depends on the voices of our consumers to make the use of Standards more impacting in Guyana. This also alerts our Regulators on the interests of our consumers.
Consumer products can be generally defined as items that are often bought for private use or consumption by consumers. These products range from clothing, food, automobile, jewellery, construction materials, appliances and toys among others. The delivery of services should also be noted since our consumers utilise a wide range of services which include online shopping, healthcare, transportation, testing, catering, cosmetology, inspection, certification, insurance, banking, security, consultancy, training and so much more. As such, our consumers have expectations.
In addition, consumers across the globe are increasingly concerned with sustainable production and ethical trade practices. They are likely to make purchasing decisions based on how a product or service is produced, in addition to weighing traditional concerns such as price, safety and health, quality, performance, and product information.
Standards are the main drivers to ensure that the products and services available on the local market are conforming to the relevant requirements and consumers get value for monies spent. These standards are agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics. When such agreements are international, they become “International Standards”.
The GNBS has adopted a number of regional and international standards to provide a framework for regulators to verify that products manufactured and services delivered conform to the respective standards. However, despite standards being generally voluntary, it is expected that manufacturers, importers and retailers will ensure that the products or services they deliver to our consumers are conforming to requirements.
According to ISO publication, ‘Involving consumers why and how’ Consumers were among the first to call for the development of standards for environmental management and the resulting ISO 14000 series of standards published in 1996. Consumers also were at the forefront of ISO’s decision in 2004 to produce an international standard on social responsibility (ISO 26000) which led to an unprecedented effort to involve consumers and other stakeholders. Consumers have also called for standards relating to environmental labelling and other “ethical purchasing” labels on products, business-to-consumer ecommerce transactions, product recalls and the cross-border trading of second hand goods; and such standards are being developed.
These agreements underscore the importance of consumer involvement in developing broad consensus on standards for products and services they use. Given the wide scope and impact of standards and their increasing importance for international trade, National Standards Bodies like the GNBS and Standards Developing Organisations have an obligation to seek out the consumer perspective.
Consumer can help to promote Standardisation
There are many ways that consumer representatives can influence the outcome of discussions, resulting in better, more relevant standards, and therefore more desirable end products. For example, they help ensure that the standards produced are market-relevant, by identifying which standards, or standards programmes are of priority interest to consumers. Consumer reps. can provide data on acceptable levels of risks for products defined by standards, and give examples of how goods and services are actually used (or predictably misused) in practice. They can also give advice on communication issues including labelling, product instructions and warnings, and suggest features that are specially needed for children, older persons and people with disabilities. Lastly, consumer reps. can propose solutions to address consumer requirements, such as safety, performance, quality, interoperability or enhanced consumer protection.
The GNBS has in excess of 200 published standards, which range from food, agriculture, services, hospitality, transportation, building codes, industrial, and systems to a wide range of consumer products standards to protect our consumers. The GNBS also involves consumers in the standards development process where they can make contributions to standards being developed at our public consultation sessions which are publicly advertised. Consumers are always encouraged to submit proposals to the GNBS to develop standards to improve the quality of products and services available on the local market.
As the GNBS continues to advocate for the use of standards in all sectors of society, we look forward to the support of every reader of this article, since it will undoubtedly make a better life for all of us. (Reference ISO publications: ‘Involving consumers’ and ‘Your voice matters’ (www.iso.org ))
Message from Candelle Walcott-Bostwick
Executive Director, GNBS