Consumers and users. New roles and access difficulties

Report on the workshop held on 23rd February 2021 on changes and trends in consumption and access to services

“The role of companies is changing from the need to produce value for shareholders to producing value for its stakeholders, among which are workers, suppliers, and also customers and users.”

Juan Gimeno, Professor of Applied Economics at UNED, introduced the workshop “Consumers and users” organised by the Inequality and New Economic Model Community of El Día Después and which also included participation from Rafael Escudero, the General Secretary for Consumption and Gambling.

Rafael Escudero highlighted a change in consumption habits because of the pandemic focused, on the one hand, on e-commerce and, on the other hand, on local consumption (local neighbourhood shops, restaurants, etc.). The challenge for the future is to reconcile both these habits.

Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of the new consumer agenda (see PDF by the European Commission) approved by the European Commission last November and which already includes these new consumer practices. He highlighted:

  • Consumer empowerment in the ecological and digital transition.
  • Alignment with the Spanish circular economy strategy. Therefore, a repair model is promoted instead of the purchase model, greenwashing practices are fought, etc.
  • Regulation of vulnerable consumers in the digital transition. In this sense, the Spanish Government has already established the guideline so that sectoral or regional regulations are obliged to develop policies that pay attention to these vulnerable consumers.

Escudero finally outlined two key ideas in consumption policies that are aimed to be developed in his Ministry:

  • Linking consumer policies with production policies, otherwise it will be difficult to move forward towards sustainability.
  • Comprehensive consumer policies with three adjectives: responsible, healthy and sustainable, paying special attention to vulnerable consumers in the broadest sense.

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Main conclusions from the workshop

The workshop was divided into three rooms in order to analyse the role of consumers from different perspectives, with researchers, company representatives, public administrations, cooperatives and social entities.

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Room 1. Sensitive consumers and access difficulties
  • Two kinds of vulnerabilities: financial vulnerability (people who cannot pay for a good or service) and use vulnerability (people who cannot access these goods or services for several reasons). 
  • Vulnerability of access or use of goods that should be considered basic, such as finances, is increased. 
  • The financial world is becoming increasingly complex and digital, which leads to financial exclusion in different groups (people without resources, with disabilities, elderly people, etc.).
  • Vulnerability to the so-called adhesion contracts, very long contracts that people are forced to sign to carry out almost any activity.
Room 2. Active and responsible consumers
  • Before the pandemic, digitisation had already changed the relationship of consumers with administrations and companies that provide products or services. Now, this crisis has enhanced the impact of digitisation in this sense. 
  • Consumers can slowly generate changes in the system: demanding certain criteria from producers, mediation services or conditions in public tenders.
  • Need to standardise labelling criteria and product or service information in the simplest and most accessible way.
  • Differentiate between responsible consumption and conscious consumption.
Room 3. Consumers or consumed people? How to protect consumers in the digital age
  • Consumers need to be aware of what is happening to our data and how our privacy is being respected.
  • Companies that are aware of the impact on society of using data have to position themselves in terms of how they use data, with these levels:
  1. Entities that use the data to do good (For example, NGOs fighting against eradicating poverty).
  2. Entities that quickly correct data management or stop the process in the event rights are violated. 
  3. Entities that manage data and if they detect that something is wrong, they do everything possible to fix it.
  4. Entities that consider the misuse of data with collateral damage to their business.
  5. Criminal entities that exploit data for the wrong reasons.
  • The empowerment of people is very relevant, because it is not only about not doing harm, but also about digital consumers being aware of their rights.
  • Although we have the data protection law in place, there are other rights related to digital security that are not being actively exercised.
Video summary (48 minutes)

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