on the Regional Seminar on Support and Protection of Older Persons as Consumers
Year of Older Persons (IYOP)
in Asia and
the Pacific, 1999
Division, United Nations ESCAP
3 - 6 October 1999
- Organization of the Seminar
- Opening of the Seminar
- Adoption of the Agenda
- Overview of mandates for consumer protection for older persons
- Major areas of concern relating to support and protection of older persons as consumers
- Consideration of policy and programme
- Adoption of Recommendations
- Annex - Recommendations
ORGANIZATION OF THE SEMINAR
1. The Regional Seminar on Support and Protection of Older Persons as Consumers was convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in collaboration with the China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA) at Shanghai, from 3 to 6 October 1999.
2. The main purposes of the Seminar were: (a) to exchange views and experiences; (b) to identify major issues relating to the support and protection of older persons as consumers; and (c) to recommend policy measures to address those issues at the national and regional levels.
3. The Seminar was attended by representatives of the following countries: China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Myanmar, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam.
4. The following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations were represented: Citizens' Alliance for Consumer Protection of Korea (CACPK), Consumers Federated Groups of the Philippines, Consumers International (CI), HelpAge Sri Lanka, Indonesian Consumers Organization (Yayasan Lembaga Konsumen Indonesia), McKean Rehabilitation Centre (Thailand), National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NACSCOM), Pakistan Medico International (PMI) and Voluntary Organization in Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE).
5. The representatives from the Senior Citizens' Association, Pasig City, Philippines, and Secutech Israel Ltd (Israel) attended as observers.
6. The Seminar participants were invited by CNCA to attend the opening of the International Exhibition on Goods and Services for Senior People organized jointly by the Shanghai Municipal Council and the Shanghai Committee on Ageing in Shanghai from 3-6 October 1999.
to the top
OPENING OF THE SEMINAR
7. The Seminar was opened by the Chief, Disadvantaged Groups Section and Officer-in-charge, Social Policy Section, Social Development Division of ESCAP. In welcoming the participants, he drew their attention to the decision of the United Nations General Assembly in 1992 to observe the year 1999 as the International Year of Older Persons. He emphasized that the commemoration of the Year provided all concerned - Governments, NGOs, communities, families and individuals and inter-governmental and regional organizations - an opportunity to harness their effort in raising awareness of ageing-related issues, strengthening action and cooperation to improve the quality of life of older persons.
8. He observed that though consumer protection was a public concern and had been on the agenda of various United Nations meetings since the 1980's, the Seminar was the first of its type whereby support and protection of older persons as consumers would be discussed in detail and in light of relevant international and regional mandates. He expressed appreciation of the level of interest in the issues as demonstrated by the presence at the Seminar of participants from various countries and organizations in the region. He noted that the ESCAP secretariat had been undertaking many activities to enhance understanding of and action for national and regional action in support of older persons.
9. The Chief of the Disadvantaged Groups Section and Officer-in-charge, Social Policy Section, Social Development Division of ESCAP expressed deep gratitude and warmest thanks on behalf of the organization to the Government of China through CNCA for its generous support for and close cooperation in the organization of the Seminar.
10. Ms. Yang Yanyin, Vice Minister, Ministry of Civil Affairs, Government of China opened the Seminar. In welcoming the participants, the Vice Minister noted that the Seminar became all the more important as it was organized on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and the observance of the International Year of Older Persons in China.
11. The Vice Minister emphasized that the economic and social impacts of population ageing were already being felt in China. She noted that with the ageing of the population and the increase in the number of older persons, the needs of this special social group for special products and services would increase and thus put a pressure on society if they were not adequately met. She reaffirmed the policy of the Chinese Government to raise the standards of living of older persons and at the same time to encourage "silver industries" to develop further to meet the demands of society. She expressed the belief that the Seminar would provide a good opportunity for the participants to learn from each other's experience.
12. Mr. Zhang Wenfan, President, CNCA, delivered an opening statement. He observed that Shanghai was the first city in China to experience industrialization and at the same time the first city classified as an ageing society in the country. He noted that China's population of older persons aged 60 years and over had reached 125 million and thus issues relating to the support and protection of older persons as consumers deserved special attention.
13. The President of CNCA further emphasized that as a society aged, the supply of consumer goods and services, the special needs of older persons and their consumption patterns would have considerable impacts on industrial structure, market composition and attitudes. He therefore suggested that the issues relating to older persons as consumers should be further studied in the light of population ageing and in the context of economic, social and cultural development. He expressed the view that on the occasion of the International Year of Older Persons, practical policies should be established and/or strengthened to enable older persons to fully benefit from the national development process. He also recommended that governments and NGOs make greater efforts to generate greater awareness and understanding of older people's concerns and needs. Finally, he expressed his deep gratitude to ESCAP for its full support and cooperation in the organization of the Seminar.
14. The Vice Mayor of Shanghai, Mr. Feng Guoqin, welcomed the participants on behalf of the local host, the Shanghai Municipal Council and the Shanghai Committee on Ageing. In doing so, he drew the participants' attention to the fact that people aged 60 and over accounted for 18 per cent of the total population of Shanghai and had thus become an important group to society. He emphasized that it was important that older persons be provided with necessary means and facilities as well as an enabling environment for their life.
15. The Vice Mayor of Shanghai expressed appreciation of the timely organization of the Seminar on the topic of support and protection of older persons and suggested that it focus on approaches to be taken by all the sectors in society to facilitate the development of markets for consumption by the elderly and to promote their wellbeing. He placed much importance on the need to share information and national experience among the Seminar participants.
to the top
ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA
16. The Seminar adopted the following agenda:
Organization of the seminar
Opening of the seminar
Adoption of the agenda
Overview of mandates for consumer protection for older persons
(a) Macao Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific;
(b) United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
Major areas of concern relating to support and protection of older persons as consumers.
(a) Health and health care products and services;
(b) Financial services;
(c) Housing, transport and communications services;
Consideration of policy and programme approaches
Adoption of recommendations
Closing of the seminar
to the top
OVERVIEW OF MANDATES FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION FOR OLDER PERSONS
117. The Seminar reviewed relevant international and regional mandates relating to consumer protection for older persons. It noted that though there had been no single document on the protection of older persons as consumers, various international and regional documents were available which addressed issues relating to consumer protection and older persons whereby the protection of older consumers was highly applicable. In this regard, the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific which was adopted on 1 October 1998 and the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection adopted in 1985 were of particular relevance and importance.
18. Presentations were made by the ESCAP secretariat on the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific and the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection. It was brought to the participants' attention that one of the seven major areas of concern covered by the Macao Plan of Action was regarding older persons and the market, that older persons were a special group of consumers and that in some countries, there had emerged a well-defined market with older persons becoming captive consumers. The Seminar noted that the rights of older persons as consumers should be safeguarded and older persons should be encouraged to join or form consumer groups to safeguard their interest. The Seminar was of the view that governments should facilitate and regulate the development of a market for goods and services for older persons by providing appropriate incentives and guidance and by putting safeguards in place to prevent abuse and ensure minimum standards.
19. In reviewing the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection, the Seminar reaffirmed its full support to the objectives, general principles, and guidelines contained therein. The Seminar agreed that those rights and principles were fully applicable to older persons as a group of consumers. In addition, it emphasized that since older persons were a special group, additional measures should be undertaken to provide them with necessary support and protection and that the Guidelines should serve as a framework for action. The Seminar felt that there was a need for further disseminating the Guidelines in the region and in this regard, the media, NGOs and concerned government agencies had an important role to play.
to the top
V. MAJOR AREAS OF CONCERN RELATING TO SUPPORT AND PROTECTION OF OLDER PERSONS AS CONSUMERS
20. The Seminar heard presentations on issues under the above theme relating to health and health care product and services, financial services, housing, transport and communication as well as other services. Documents under this item included a paper on the major areas of concern of older persons as consumers, country and organizational papers, and other materials on such topics as the consumption psychology of older persons in China, the promotion of effective consumption by older persons, housing and retirement community.
21. Regarding health and health care products and services, the Seminar recognized that the health needs of older persons were multi-dimensional and their services were generally provided by the private sector though in some countries, the public sector did play a certain role. However, the range and quality of health products and services and their prices varied depending on many factors, including the market conditions and locations. It was observed that older persons tended to become victims of unscrupulous or aggressive market practices, in view of their lack of updated information on the products and services. It was felt that governments should put in place rules and regulations to ensure the safety of health and health care products and services, monitor the pricing and safety of essential drugs and goods made available to older persons and improve older persons' access to information on such goods and services.
22. In the area of financial services, the participants placed much emphasis on savings schemes and other mechanisms and services to help improve financial security in old age. It was noted that financial security would be best guaranteed through the maintenance of a steady income stream through the productive years and sound investment. It was also noted that financial packages such as bank loans and other credit facilities were not generally or easily available to older persons who had reached retirement age. The Seminar observed that while in many countries in the region, there was already a mechanism to encourage saving among the population, the absence of reliable financial services in various countries were among the factors affecting older persons' ability to maintain sound savings. They were of the view that there was a need for governments to establish appropriate mechanisms for savings, to remove taxes on interest earned by savings of older people to encourage savings.
23. As regards housing, transport and communication services, the Seminar discussed a wide range of issues relating to the support and protection of older persons as consumers. It noted that in many countries in the region, older persons tended to share shelters with their families and the living environment had considerable impacts on older people's lives. The Seminar also observed that older persons often did not have adequate access to barrier-free transportation and communication. In examining the various options and arrangements that might be available in different countries, the participants felt that special arrangements should be made to ensure that older persons had reasonable and adequate living environments, meet their special transportation and communication needs, and promote the safety of older people in the use of such services. The Seminar recommended in this regard that governments provide special assistance to older persons in difficult situations such as the poor or those without family support and with disabilities.
24. The Seminar further discussed issues such as the strengthening of community support in promoting protection of older persons as consumers. It was of the view that the community, the family and the public at large all played an important role in raising awareness of the need to provide support to older consumers. The Seminar emphasized that older persons should be encouraged to form their own consumers groups or join other groups to harness their position and make their views known in the market. In this connection, the participants suggested that associations of older persons should be established and/or encouraged and older people be empowered to undertake projects that improved their well-being and that of the community.
to the top
VI. CONSIDERATION OF POLICY AND PROGRAMME APPROACHES
25. The Seminar examined different policy and programme alternatives and approaches in promoting support and protection of older persons as consumers. It believed that any viable policy and programme in this area had to take into consideration the views and interest of older persons as the primary stakeholders while the other key players, including governments, NGOs, the private sector and communities all had a stake in the success of such a policy or programme.
26. The Seminar considered policy measures and programmes that were desirable and could be feasible at both national and regional levels. In doing so, they recommended that it was essential to develop and adopt national policies, strategies and legislation to promote the well-being of older persons in the context of overall national development and to review the existing laws and policies concerning older persons' rights and interest as consumers. It also emphasized the need to establish mechanisms to provide legal aid, redress and other types of support for older persons in need of such services. Where such offices were not yet set up, the Seminar recommended that institutions be established to monitor the safety of products and services to consumers, particularly older consumers.
27. At the regional level, the Seminar acknowledged that there was an urgent and strong need to promote regional cooperation in this area. It held the view that there should be more regional cooperation in the form of policy dialogues and information exchanges as well as sharing research findings among national institutions and organizations. The Seminar recommended that in this process, ESCAP, as the regional arm for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations system should play a central role and that similar seminars should be organized and facilitated by ESCAP in collaboration with governments, NGOs and other institutions.
28. The Seminar participants discussed and formulated a set of recommendations on policies and programmes aimed at promoting and strengthening support and protection of older people as consumers.
to the top
ADOPTION OF RECOMMENDATIONS
29. The Seminar adopted their recommendations as mentioned in paragraph 28 above on 6 October 1999. The full text of the recommendations are annexed to the present report.
30. The Seminar welcomed the initiative of CNCA to host a second regional seminar, to be convened in 2000, focusing on support and protection of older people as consumers and community support to older people.
to the top
Though in its early stages, Asia and the Pacific is experiencing rapid population ageing. This process is posing both challenges and opportunities for the countries of the region. With the increasing numbers and proportions of older persons in populations, older persons are both participants and beneficiaries of the development process. Approaches to issues relating to older persons should thus be humanitarian and developmental.
Older persons are a special group of consumers requiring specialized goods and services in their daily living. Older persons, especially older women, those with disabilities, limited purchasing power or knowledge of products are vulnerable and susceptible to inappropriate market practices that have an adverse impact on their daily life. On the other hand, there is an emerging demand for goods and services for older persons and the need for "silver industries" to be promoted and regulated.
Having reviewed the situation and emerging issues relating to the support and protection of older persons as consumers and taking into consideration divergence in circumstances and priorities among countries and communities, the Seminar calls on governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, ESCAP and other concerned entities to examine and take action, at national and regional levels, on the following recommendations for the benefit of older persons as well as of their respective societies.
II. ACTION TO BE TAKEN AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
At the national level, Governments, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other concerned entities, should:
1. Social position of older persons, the family and community
- make every effort to raise national awareness of issues relating to older persons including to undertake "social marketing" of issues. Educational institutions, the media, opinion shapers as well as religious, community and consumer organizations should be fully utilized to disseminate information and promote such awareness;
- promote a positive image of older persons, not only as those who demand care and support but also as contributors to society and international development. Negative images, references and stereotypes of older persons as frail and helpless should be avoided;
- promote active ageing: independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity;
- promote the psychological support of older persons and create enough facilities to support this aspect;
- identify older persons as a specific category of consumers in relevant laws and regulations;
- create consumer awareness among older persons and inform them of their rights as consumers and to take the initiative in advocating their own rights and interest;
- promote the invaluable supportive role of the family as the traditional care provider to older persons, including the provision of incentives; and
- mobilize community support, including voluntary services, in promoting older persons' well-being and awareness of their role as consumers.
2. Health and health care products and services
- adopt health policy and health care through enactment of appropriate legislation and establishment and effective enforcement of implementing rules and regulations;
- consider the provision of free medical care to older persons and of free, subsidized or concessionary rates for special health care and services. Where possible, NGOs and community organizations should be encouraged to shoulder the responsibility for the provision of health services to older persons; and
- adopt measures to make safe and essential drugs and goods available at affordable prices to older persons.
3. Housing, transportation and the built environment
- establish appropriate rules and regulations to promote a barrier-free physical environment for older persons such as in public buildings and places to ensure that older persons enjoy the freedom of movement and to facilitate their participation in community activities;
- make special arrangements to meet the transportation needs of older persons. Concessions in travel fares should be considered for older commuters using public facilities;
- establish policies and measures to protect older persons against deceptive, unfair and unconscionable sales, acts and practices.
4. Income security and financial services
- since income security ensures a source of financial resources for consumption, social security systems should be put in place or strengthened to raise the living standard of and therefore consumption expenditures by older persons;
- maintain the purchasing capacity of older persons and make universal pensions, gratuity or other retirement benefits, irrespective of gender, urban and rural background. The financial benefits may be upgraded from time to time in line with the prevailing economic situation;
- extend the cut-off age for entering into a bank loan facility, housing loan and insurance facility to around 5 years below the age of life expectancy in countries in the region;
- adopt policies aimed at meeting older persons' needs relating to financial services, if possible through the enactment of appropriate legislation;
- provide older persons easy access to credit at discounted effective interest rates, if possible. Ensure full disclosures of finance charges of credit, in writing, to older consumers before credit is extended.
- provide older persons rebates on prepayment of loans and waiver of deferral charges;
- reduce, if not eliminate, taxes on incomes of older persons; and
- provide incentives for the development of industries that produce goods and services for older persons.
5. National mechanisms and processes
- review laws, policies and practices relative to older persons' rights and interests as consumers of goods and services. Legal support should be provided older persons when the need arises.
- create offices for consumer protection in rural areas entrusted with the task of helping older persons exercise their rights as consumers as well as assist in maximizing their contribution to national development. In this connection, necessary funding support should be provided by governments to ensure the effectiveness of these policies;
- an informal network should be set up among NGOs and other organizations working for consumers and older persons to collaborate in promoting support and protection of older persons as consumers;
- step up advocacy activities on the rights and needs of older consumer. In this respect, governments and NGOs should cooperate in developing appropriate programmes reaching all members of society;
- establish or strengthen a national coordinating mechanism to coordinate policy and programmes for older persons and consumer protection. In this connection, this body should oversee and monitor the implementation of the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific;
- identify new alternative ways and means of providing support to older persons including in their role as consumers;
- promote research on issues relating to older persons particularly to the support and protection of older persons as consumers; and
- promote lifelong preparation for old age, with due emphasis on education and the provision of incentives for such preparation.
III. ACTION TO BE TAKEN AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL
It has been recognized that responsibility for the implementation of the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific as well as the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection rests primarily with national governments and other organizations. However, regional support measures play an important role in promoting the implementation of such mandates as well as in the support and protection of older persons as consumers.
At the regional level, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), in collaboration with other concerned United Nations bodies and specialized agencies as well as concerned non-governmental and other organizations and the business sector, should:
1. continue to provide necessary technical assistance and advisory services to the countries in the region in the implementation of preceding recommendations as well as those of the Macau Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific and the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection;
2. continue to mobilize resources and organize seminars, workshops and other types of group training to promote awareness, understanding and exchange of views on issues relating to older persons and their role as consumers. Efforts should be made to explore possibilities of involving the various players and actors such as government representatives, NGOs, private voluntary organizations, research institutes and the private sector from the region as well as from other regions;
3. initiate action to convene in September 2000, in collaboration with the China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA), a regional seminar of a larger scale of participation than the present one, focusing on the support and protection of older persons as consumers and on community support to older persons;
4. take the opportunity during the International Year of Older Persons (1999) to strengthen regional cooperation and solidarity in working for the improvement of the quality of life and well-being of older persons, especially as consumers;
5. set up a network of government agencies and NGOs working for older persons and consumer protection in the region;
6. promote collaboration between consumer organizations and those NGOs working for older persons in advocating and protecting the interest and welfare of older persons;
7. give priority to inter-country cooperation in the formulation and implementation of research and projects relating to health care and treatment of older persons; and
8. disseminate the findings and recommendations of the present Seminar to policy makers, development practitioners, and other concerned entities.
to the top