Four out of every five voters in Germany want better consumer protection. This was one of the findings of a survey carried out on behalf of the consumer organisations. We Greens see ourselves as the political voice of consumers. We voice their concerns in Parliament and are tireless advocates for consumer-friendly rules in a fair and transparent market.
Green policy put the vision of sustainability on the consumer policy agenda for the first time. We are concerned about how consumption affects health, but we also look at consumption in terms of its ethical, economic and ecological impacts. Consumer interests play a central role in our parliamentary initiatives. As a result, 28 per cent of respondents trust us most – more than any other party – when it comes to consumer policy. This trust imposes an obligation on us to continue to defend consumers' interests.
The public's consumption habits and lifestyles have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Responsible consumers now expect more from the consumer goods market: they are asking questions about the products that are available, and about the manufacturing process. More and more people are opting for organic and fair trade products and are exercising their power as consumers.
Green products have been booming for years. They create jobs and protect the environment. We want to establish appropriate legal and political frameworks for these growth markets so that they can continue to experience dynamic growth, with consumer demand in line with overall economic and social needs. A sustainability label would create an incentive for companies to prioritise high quality and sustainable production methods. Consumers should also have quick and easy access to information about the benefits for people and the environment.
People and markets are not perfect and complete. Despite the frequent talk of "mature and responsible consumers", this is an ideal. A great deal could be achieved, however, if consumers could assert their position as equals in the economy. In order to equip them with necessary tools, we are working for a radical reform of the Consumer Information Act, with the aim of creating the requisite transparency for responsible, self-determined consumer decisions. In addition, we attach great importance to sound consumer advice from financially secure and independent consumer organisations.
We want to maintain and expand consumers' freedom of choice on issues from genetically modified foods to ecological investment, for example. We are facing up to the challenges presented by modern consumer society and are looking at where new rules are required in future, and what form these rules should take. We draw attention to abuses and are consistent in our demand for new consumer rights such as better protection of customer data, so that personal details remain private.
On an equal level with companies
All too often, consumers draw the short straw because market failure, market power and monopolies restrict their freedom of action. Consumer-oriented rules, different incentive schemes and regulatory structures must be introduced for the financial markets at long last, for example. More competition and a switch to "green" electricity are antidotes to excessively high electricity prices. The four major companies should no longer be able to earn a fortune as they see fit, at consumers' expense. We are calling for economic interests on the demand side to be given a greater hearing, backed by appropriate legislation.
Weak and inexperienced target groups, such as children and young people, need clear safeguards to protect them from the profit hunger and vested interests of commercial lobbies. Violations of consumer protection laws are not a trivial offence, in our view. On issues such as safety and the protection of health, we are guided by the precautionary principle. 50 per cent of the population nowadays is overweight and reliant on accurate information about fat and sugar content on food packaging. That is why we are calling for traffic light labelling of nutritional information to alert consumers to fattening foods. In schools, a healthy lunch should be provided as a matter of course. Consumer protection is there to help the public.
We Greens learned the lessons of the BSE crisis in 2001 and took practical action with the establishment of a new Ministry for Consumer Protection. Since then, we have consistently introduced consumer issues into the political debate. We remain committed to this issue and will continue to work in the Bundestag for more consumer protection!