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Consumer empowerment: global context, UK strategies and vulnerable consumers

By Carol Brennan and Martin Coppack


Globalization has created new consumer needs and wants, and resulted in consumer confusion regarding the increasing complexity of products and services. This has stimulated global interest in educating and empowering consumers. The UK government has made a very ambitious commitment to ensure that the framework for consumer empowerment and support is at the level of the best in the world by 2008. The government, many consumer organizations and regulators believe that empowered consumers are key to the success of competitive markets. Two national strategies to co-ordinate activities in the UK have been developed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The OFT consumer education strategy aims to deliver targeted, effective consumer education by increasing co-ordination and making the best use of available resources. The FSA is leading a financial capability strategy designed to deliver change to improve the UK's financial capability. Both strategies share a vision of educated and confident consumers making informed choices about the products and services they buy, and both aim to empower vulnerable consumers. Given the global interest and the development of national strategies, it is useful to consider what is meant by the term consumer empowerment. Is there a shared view of consumer empowerment internationally? Does the education of consumers result in empowered consumers? To what extent do the national strategies address the empowerment of vulnerable, disadvantaged, excluded or susceptible consumers? These questions will be addressed in this article which reviews the global context for the consumer education and empowerment agenda and considers key UK developments, with particular reference to the needs of vulnerable consumers. The study found that the language of consumer empowerment is gaining prominence in policy and strategy documents at the highest levels internationally in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Community, and nationally in the UK

Year: 2008
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