A call to aid third-world consumers

Consumer organizations and activists from all over the world have just launched a campaign against the sale of dangerous, shoddy, or unnecessary goods in the third world.

The leaders of national consumer groups meeting here under the auspieces of the International Organization of Consumer Unions (IOCU) almost unanimously regarded the recent action by the World Health Organization against the Swiss firm Nestle and other distributors of infant foods to developing countries as a watershed.

They feel it should be followed by greater militancy in defense of third-world consumers, who to them represent even more vulnerable victims than their wealthier counterparts.

Arturo Lomeli, of the Mexican Association for studies in Consumer Protection, called the problem of hazardous products "the ubiquitous nightmare for the people of the third world." He and other participants outlined example after example of dangerous or inappropriate products that had been dumped on third-world markets by multinational companies from the United States, Western Europe, Japan, or Australia.

T"world car" concept and banned or restricted hazardous drugs, to high nicotine and tar cigarettes or inflamable pyjamas. Also coming under attack were the attempts of these large international firms to impose Western goods and consumption patters on low-income residents of the developing countries. In many cases, they charged, goods promoted through heavy advertising and price undercutting are costlier but less beneficial than the locally made product.

As an illustration of how consumers across the world can be victimized by dangerous products, five Japanese invalids in wheelchairs out of the estimated 11,000 persons stricken by one pharmaceutical preparation, attended the meeting. Although the European firm manufacturing the product has reportedly paid heavy damages and apologized to the Japanese victims of the substance, it continues to market the drug in the developing world, often with no accompanying warning, according to participants at the meeting.

Anwar Fazal of Malaysia, the IOCU president, expressed fear that the problem of dangerous products being exported to the third world could worsen. He said this may result from President Reagan's rescinding a Carter administration restriction on the shipment of goods banned or limited in the United States.

"We are back to square one on this," he commented. He also noted that pressures for new third-world consumers for Western products and the dependent marketing and government systems in the poor countries are aggravating the problem.

Exports of banned or circumscribed products from the United States amount to , consumer advocates are considered political agitators. "If you involve yourself in direct action organizing, you run dangers."

Nevertheless, the international consumer movement seems to be making inroads in a number of third-world countries and is developing its own network of interest and contacts. For instance, the consumer organizers meeting in The Hague worked out plans for the opration of an international "consumers' interpol" against the dumping of dangerous products. At the meeting, Holland's Prince Klaus announced his government's contribution of $50,000 to this operation.

Under this system, consumer groups would alert their contacts in the third world to be on the lookout for products found to be dangerous or banned on Western markets.

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