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Opinion: Charitable thought

It may not have been top of mind this week (or in your mind at all), but it was “Include a Charity Week”. To be frank, I didn’t know about it myself until I stumbled upon a reference online. The week is to encourage people to include in their will a gift or bequest to charity.

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That got me thinking about our own organisation. Consumer NZ is a charity. Fortunately, the services we produce online and in the magazine, and the contracts we have, fund our operations – mostly. But, like all charities, we do everything on the smell of an oily rag. We’d love to do more.

Much of our advocacy and campaigning work involves standing up to organisations or corporates that have a deep well of resources to bat us off, or even threaten us. They have armies of well-paid spin merchants, lawyers and lobbyists to make it hard.

For example, this week we released a survey of public reaction to health star ratings on packaged foods in supermarkets. This is a huge issue as New Zealand faces a growing obesity crisis. We wanted to know what people thought of the ratings. Most people were aware of them but there is concern that a breakfast cereal like Nutri-Grain can gain four stars (the highest rating is five) when it is a quarter sugar. There are other anomalies where big food manufacturers have been able to game the system. We will be presenting our findings to the government bodies reviewing health star ratings with recommendations for change.

Interestingly we were invited to attend a trans-Tasman government meeting in Brisbane to discuss this issue. We asked if a representative from Consumer NZ could be funded to attend. The answer was no. So food industry and government officials will be well represented. But consumers, not so much. That’s not fair. We deserve our voice (your voice) to be heard.

In 2010, Consumer formed a charitable foundation, which incorporated the previous Emily Carpenter Trust. That trust was set up in 1994 with funds from a bequest by the late Emily Carpenter CMG BHSc, one of the consumer movement’s most dedicated and longest-serving participants.

The Foundation’s aims are to:

  • to support and fund education and research projects promoting consumer welfare and public awareness of issues of importance to consumers
  • to support and fund representations to organisations and agencies on issues of importance to consumers
  • to support and fund participation in committees and councils having an interest in consumer issues.

The Trust is chaired by Consumer Board member and former Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff. Donations to the trust help us carry out more advocacy work, run campaigns on matters we feel strongly about, and make submissions on important consumer issues. Given it’s Include a Charity Week, I thought it worth a reminder. We welcome donations and greatly appreciate your support. You can find out more at consumer.org.nz/topics/consumer-foundation.

By Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin

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