For fighting for the rights of consumers and helping them to do the same.
Anwar Fazal is a Malaysian activist campaigning for consumers and citizens’ rights. Having started advocating in his native country, he soon rose to work on the issue internally, amplifying the magnitude of consumers’ concerns. He also ensured that poor consumers from the developing world had a voice at the international fora.
Convinced that consumers’ involvement should go beyond food and product safety, products’ weights and measures, he promoted new networks to work with this wider perspective. His broader approach included infant feeding practices, pesticide hazards, pharmaceuticals, health, education and environment as issues requiring urgent global action.
Fazal identified five key responsibilities for consumer organisations: critical awareness, action, social concern, ecological awareness and solidarity. It means having a questioning attitude about goods and services and the impacts of consumption, both on the environment and disadvantaged and powerless groups. It also involves being prepared to look for fair deals and protect common interests.
Anwar Fazal is a pioneering Malaysian advocate for consumers’ rights. As a tireless network builder, he has led the creation of many local and international civil associations asking for adequate information and fair legislation on people’s daily consumption. From breastfeeding campaigns to waste disposal regulations, he has promoted consumers’ education and protection for six decades, relating to health, environment, peace and democracy building.
Broadening the scope of consumers and their rights
Anwar Fazal first became associated with the consumer movement in 1969 when he founded the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and later worked on consumer affairs for, among others, the Government of Mauritius, the Hong Kong Consumer Council and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In 1978, he was the first person from the Global South to become President of the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU). This independent, non-profit group linked the activities of consumer organisations in over half the countries of the world. IOCU, which has since changed its name to Consumers International (CI), promoted international cooperation in consumer protection and education, representing the consumer interest at the global level and facilitating comparative testing of goods and services.
In the following years, Fazal galvanised the international consumer movement, founding several global networks, which he called “a new wave of the consumer movement.” These included the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), founded in 1979; the Health Action International (HAI), created in 1981; and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), formed in 1982. The Consumer Interpol, established in 1981 thanks to Fazal’s determination, was a consumer and environmental alert system to monitor the global trade in hazardous products and technologies.
Since receiving the Right Livelihood Award in 1982, Fazal kept on developing various interests and concerns. The 1990s saw him involved in setting up the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), where he served as a Chairperson. He also took part in The Water Watch Asia, the Sustainable Transport Action Network (SUSTRAN), Waste Wise Asia, the Asian Partnership for International Migration (APIM) and the Malaysian Society for Transparency and Integrity.
Founding father of consumers’ movements
He started several global popular mobilisation initiatives, including World Consumer Rights Day (March 15), World Wetlands Day (February 1), World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 to 7) and World Migrants Day (December 18).
During the following decades, he served as Chairperson of Think City, advised the Taiping Peace Initiative and was active with inter-faith dialogue, urban governance, migrant workers’ rights, toxic contaminants, and fighting corruption
He has established a trust fund that developed and supported new and creative initiatives by citizens’ groups to promote what he called the “Panchasila” (five principles in Sanskrit) of Right Livelihood. They are social justice, ecological sustainability, cultural vibrancy, political participation and economic productivity. He has also served on the Boards of Pesticides Action International, Citizens International, Friends of the Earth and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. Fazal has served on The Goldman Environmental Prize’s Jury, the Boards of Green Grants Foundation and Transparency International Malaysia, and was the Malaysian Interfaith Network Chairperson.
For over a decade, he was the head of the United Nations Good Urban Governance Initiative for Asia and the Pacific. For another decade, he was a member of the Right Livelihood Jury that selects the Award recipients every year. From 2009 to 2020, he was the Director of the Right Livelihood College, our initiative linking activism and academia.