In the age of modernization, not every product can suit its consumer and not every consumer feels heard. Pro-consumer activism is an issue at the core of the millennial generation, and a unique way to allow for innovation’s creativity to reach the hands of willing clients.
The Consumer Choice Center advocates on behalf of lifestyle freedom and innovation, to ensure that policy takes consumer choice into account.
Find out more about where the consumer voice is lacking and how to make sure it’s heard.
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During Berlin’s anti-Uber demonstrations, a small collective of activists put together a mini-protest to support Uber’s ingenuity and show solidarity for its innovative vision. Slowly, a few more individuals joined their counter-protest, establishing their belief that consumers aren’t being taken into account. In this episode, we spoke with Yael Ossowski, Deputy Director of Consumer Choice Center, a grassroots organization fighting for the rights of everyday consumers.
Consumer Choice Center’s involvement relies on resources, understanding and broader interest
With so many divisive issues plaguing society today, one has to choose what is worth fighting for, and how to go about fighting for it. Linking onto consumer-driven policy demands such as alcohol modernization, free trade agreements and cannabis legalization, amongst others, takes the focus off of business and brings it back to the user. Yael Ossowski explains that the reduction of state monopolies will allow citizens to have more purchasing power in their interactions with local and international economies.
Listen to the whole interview to find out how you can get involved in the fight towards a prioritized consumer. You can also subscribe to Consumer Choice radio which has a new show every week and sign up to be a member. Many consumers feel that their agency is restored knowing that their rights are fought for worldwide.
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Hi and welcome. Today great.com talks with Yael Ossowski, who is the deputy director of Consumer Choice Center.org, and if you haven’t heard of them before, they are a global grassroots movement for consumer choice. And if you haven’t done so already, you definitely want to press subscribe on YouTube or on your podcast app, because today we’re going to talk about many different topics, anything from how to make tech better for the consumers to alcohol modernization, to maybe even cannabis regulation, depending on how much we can do in 20 minutes. But I am really excited to speak with Yael today. So, Yael. Hey, thank you. Welcome. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. Thank you so much. I mean, it’s a pleasure to be on. Right. So what is the Consumer Choice Center? What is your purpose?
Consumer Choice Dinner was an idea of many of us who had been in student activism for many years, some of us were in journalism, some of us were economists, or some of us dealt a little bit with policy regulation. And we saw that there was a kind of growing move against awesome innovations that were happening. And our origin story kind of goes back to the taxi protests in Berlin over the Uber app many years ago. And the idea was that the invention of Uber and Uber being let loose on the streets of Berlin and throughout Germany was putting taxi drivers immediately out of work and therefore needed to be halted. That was the dominant narrative in the newspapers and most of the politicians speeches. But there really wasn’t any concentration on the people that Uber specifically benefited the most, which were normal consumers, you or I, or anyone who’s ever downloaded the app or used it. And again, doesn’t have to be Uber. It can be Lyft in the United States, or we have Bolt in Estonia and throughout the EU. And that’s when really we wanted to stand up. So a few of my colleagues put together signs, put together a nice little mini protest and stating the taxi monopoly is so yesterday and stating that consumers actually love having these innovations. And it picked up a lot of media coverage and it was put onto the German news wire. And all of a sudden just a bunch of kids with placards and slogans were able to kind of change a little bit of the debate in Germany on tech innovation.
And then we started thinking about this issue when it comes to many other different innovations. And we think of Airbnb, for instance, and we think of people who are able to rent out their homes. We started thinking about when it comes to alcohol modernization, when it comes to general taxation on things that you or I enjoy. And we started seeing that there’s a room in this area for people who would like to advocate for consumers, especially millennials, who actually really enjoy great innovations. There’s obviously a lot of things that we care about and we want to make sure that there are smart regulations on. But also we have to make sure that the next great innovations that are going to make our lives better and improve them can come to force. So that’s why we focus a lot on health and science, particularly a lot of things around tariffs on things like medicines, increasing competition when it comes to health care as well, I think is very important in many different situations. So we just kind of put this together as an idea, started out with just a couple of people. And now we span the United States, European Union, parts of South America, and we have colleagues in Indonesia and people working in Malaysia as well. So very much now, a global effort, many different consumer issues, not your normal consumer group, I would say, but we’ve been able to grow and be successful. And now it’s great fun to be doing what we’re doing, you know, doing this as a job.
Wow. It’s so cool with the idea of protesting for innovation. So help me to understand who is funding this? Where is the money coming from? What is the incentive for you guys to do it, except for one thing, to bring these products to the market?
Yeah, I mean, it was very difficult in the beginning because of the different areas. You know, we came from the five one see three United States nonprofit model where you deal with a lot of private contributors, people who might like it, or a lot of foundations who generally might like work that you do. So we started doing that. It did prove a little bit successful. And then as we started growing, we started seeing that there actually were a lot of partnerships that we could establish either with associations or other foundations. So it started off really just kind of as a pet project. I mentioned that a lot of us were student activists. You know, we were training young people on mainly classical liberal issues, everything from economics to social policies. And it was sort of in that that we started to build momentum and then we were able to actually have some very good partnerships. So now we do have a growing member base of people who subscribe. We have different associations and companies who have also given to us. For us, the mission has always been very clear. We’re not there to support monopolies. We’re not there to support any specific companies. It’s about the principle. And a lot of it comes from the notion of many economists of the 1970s and 80s. You know, it’s not about being pro-business. That’s actually the terrible attitude for people to have. You need to be pro-consumer. And the way to be the best pro consumer activist is to make sure that the playing field is very level and that we allow innovation to come through. So we partner with a lot of great groups. We have a lot of that on our website. It depends on the country. It depends on the things that we’re doing. But. Overall, we’re very happy to be able to do this as a private initiative and hopefully grow for the future.
I can imagine that there are a lot of modern Uber examples that there are as many different topics where you could potentially be involved. So how are you reasoning there? Are you putting all your eggs in one basket or do you try to get involved in all of these topics? How do you choose the topic?
Yeah, that’s an important question. And it really depends on a) where our resources are, b) our understanding of the topic, and c) just really broader interest. There are a lot of different things that are very present and necessary and important in, let’s say, the European Union that are of absolutely no concern in the United States or Canada. So Canada specifically, I’ll use an example. It’s a nation where I was born. Our colleague, David Clements, our North American affairs manager, works there. And it’s many different Canadian issues. There are things like agricultural subsidies and supply management. And that’s something that is a pressing problem for Canadian consumers because it increases the price of grocery bills generally. And that’s just something that we’ve stuck to. And David has written papers on it. He’s testified and governments, something like the cannabis issue is, is something that’s very pressing. And really how we try to choose is where do we know we can be effective? Where do we know that the consumer voice is lacking? I think that’s very important. And I think the cannabis debate about legalization, about regulation, about the differences between CBD and hemp and THC, the voice of the consumers was missing. It wasn’t there. So oftentimes we would hear about the way to legalise cannabis, either from just old legacy activists or different groups who would oppose it, and not necessarily for consumers who are going to be concerned about what’s the percentage of THC, what’s the percentage of CBD, what are the rules on labeling, what are the rules on being able to have different stores in the different jurisdiction? And I think these are the types of questions that we start to ask whenever we approach a topic and where we’re going to have a lot of impact.
It meshes with our impact on media being able to get our publications and our articles into mainstream news articles in various languages. I think that’s important. I think being able to partner with different groups, we have many different organisations that are also, we would call them pressure groups or activist groups that we work with on various issues, whether it be airlines and ensuring cheap flights or trying to defend modern agriculture. There’s a lot of different groups that are already doing this work. So what we do is actually partner with them and try to represent the voice of consumers who want that type of innovation. So it changes from day to day, but it also matters a lot on our staff and what we’re able to do and what we’re interested in and what we’re able to push. So that’s always a very important consideration.
You said before this interview that you have an interest in tech. So what are you trying to accomplish there to benefit consumers, consumers at this point?
Yeah, I think a lot of the ongoing conversations about technology and the regulation thereof specifically focused in the European Union and the United States. If we start with the EU, there’s a lot of focus on creating the European Google or Facebook or Apple or whatever, and it’s always about just trying to figure out how to essentially tax or break down the American companies and not necessarily in creating the very good incentives that would allow for any different competitors to these companies to exist. If we just look at many of the barriers that are put together by various parliamentarians in Brussels or the EU Commission, and granted, this is not something that most consumers think about or focus on or necessarily know about, because most of our national media in Europe don’t focus on it. I think that’s something that has not really been told. That’s why I use the example of Estonia before. It is a country that is doing a lot of great things for innovation there. Residency program is amazing. The amount of capital that they have actually partnered with many different investors from around the world to try to put together companies and great investments. There’s so many great things that have come out of that. We can just think of companies like TransferWise. And in Sweden, obviously you have things like Spotify which are doing a great job and actually growing around the world. I think that’s an issue in the United States. There everything becomes political. I grew up in the United States, so I know how things go now and everything turns into kind of a left-right sparring match. And it seems as if technology companies right now, we’re very much not ignorant of politics, but sort of ran alongside politics and now it’s all mixed in.
So whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or any of these companies, there are now huge considerations. If a company would like to perhaps delete a particular news article or remove a certain personality, that’s going to be very problematic. And I think where many people go wrong is they go full board and say, well, that’s why we need to break these companies up, that’s why we need to ensure that they can never hold on to X or Y data. But we never ask, why are these companies so big, why are these companies so innovative? It’s because consumers love them. They’ve been able to use them. We all have our gripes. We all have our own sort of tales to tell about social media or targeted advertising. But these things deliver great dividends for consumers. I know they’ve improved the lives of many people that make things a lot easier, especially during the pandemic. Many people who live in other countries now are able to connect with others. I mean, this is something that was not possible many years ago, even 10, 15 years ago. Yes. You had Skype, also an Estonian invention, but you didn’t have all the great video softwares that we have now and all the rest. And I think there’s too much of a focus on how do we break these guys up? How do we make sure they can get down to size? And it’s really about are the consumers really benefiting? And I think overall, if you look at it, they are and they do have the options to use alternatives. And that’s something that we’re very, very passionate about because we’re not there to support, again, one company or one service. It’s about protecting the right of consumers to have that ability to choose.
And that makes a lot of sense. So if you had a magic wand, you can swing it and change one policy to benefit consumers but change what you make globally.
I think right now it’s free trade. I think we need to have more free trade. It’s no secret that during the Donald Trump era in the United States, it was a very problematic time for trying to pass additional trade deals. I think having some kind of broader international cooperation and trade would make things a lot better and would definitely reduce the cost of things if people did not have to pay customs to the level that they do. I think that would actually significantly improve many of our lives. If we look at globalization, if we look at free trade, I mean the amount of people who’ve been lifted out of poverty in the last few decades where we have had freer trade, that’s actually one of the most powerful policies we’ve ever had. And no one really did it on purpose. No one said, OK, we’re going to do this so that we can make sure we don’t have poor people anymore. Everyone did it in their own self-interest, and that’s provided dividends for many countries. I mean, there’s a reason why South Korea is this huge tech powerhouse is the reason that Ireland is this amazing, innovative country that invites so many international companies. And it’s the reason why so many more of us are connected. And even though we’re in different countries now, we can use the Internet and all these platforms to connect. I do think trade is probably the one that if I have that magic wand, I would make sure we had freer trade around the world.
Yeah, I can imagine what would happen globally if we make that change, just look at the United Kingdom.
I mean, they were forced to go to square one. And Liz Truss, who’s I believe the secretary of state of trade, she’s been flying around the world basically every week signing new trade deals, which is, you know, for Brexit was many things for many people, but certainly for entrepreneurs. They probably felt as if they didn’t know what the future would be and consumers as well and people living there who might be from other countries. So it’s good to see that a country is willing to open up trade and to talk about how trade helps people rather than hurts them.
Mm hmm. You mentioned the word alcohol modernisation previously. What would make alcohol policies more modern?
Whether it would depend on the country depends on the context I grew up in the rural south, sort of the Bible Belt, so definitely a lot of different things, but where we’ve seen a lot of issues with alcohol. It comes down to prices and it comes down to regulations and specifically state monopolies are kind of old news, we don’t necessarily have these state monopolies anymore because then the government has an interest in selling more alcohol and getting a certain amount of tax. And it’s just not generally as efficient. And you might just say, oh, well, that just impacts drinkers. Well, you know, it’s restaurants. Whenever they open back up, it’s catering, it’s weddings, it’s all
kinds of events. We have to have more competition in these spaces. So I do think getting rid of state monopolies is going to be a big one. And that meshes with the model that is being proposed for cannabis legalization in many areas is they want to follow the old alcohol control model. So I find that is very problematic. And we’re just talking about raising prices for people. And when we look at the trade wars that happen between the United States and the European Union, you know, it was that great Kentucky bourbon that had tariffs slapped on it. Prices went up. People are still willing to pay for it. So then they lose more of their disposable income to buy the same products they got yesterday.
That’s definitely a consideration. And then the more that we sort of have these crazy regulations and we see this parallel with also the new innovation of vaping, as soon as there are all these regulations that make it more impossible to access these products, people turn to black markets and we focus a lot on black markets when it comes to cannabis, but we don’t focus in other areas because it’s not as present. But black markets are definitely something that are usually very dangerous. Not black markets necessarily online are going to be as dangerous, but you can get your credit card stolen. And if we want to have people buying cigarettes or something off the street like happened to Eric Garner in New York many years ago, choked out by the police, this is the kind of stuff that we don’t want in a black market, and that’s why we need legal markets. And the more that we can make sure that black markets and illegal markets don’t rise up as exists today with cannabis, that empowers things like the Mexican cartels, that’s going to be better overall. So I know that’s that’s a lot to throw in there, but just some things that we’re thinking about and why I think the alcohol question, it’s not just about getting your wine bottle. It’s really a bigger question about how we allow consumers to choose.
I really wish we had more time to explore the question of alcohol and cannabis. But at the same time, we’re coming up towards the end of this into so if a consumer is listening to this now and I say, yeah, I want more rights, I want lower prices, maybe I even want to get involved somehow, what can they do to make good choices and to support your organization as well?
Well, probably the biggest wealth that people could bring to us is information about what’s happening in your locality in a place like South Africa. We partner with a lot of local activists when during the pandemic, they outlawed all alcohol, all tobacco, all vaping, everything, which is an insane move in a pandemic when we could say. But I think in that case, we were able to partner with local activists who saw the issue coming. We’re able to put together our team. We gave them resources. That’s the kind of stuff that we really love. So if you have issues like this related to consumer choice in your jurisdiction, your area, alert us to that. We’re very present on all the social media as we have our radio show that goes out once a week. We’re very happy to talk about this and partner with people so that they can see exactly what the issues are and how we can help improve it. So there’s that. You can also support us. We’re a charity. We’re trying to do the best we can. So those are at least two of the best ways, I think, to support us.
Yael Ossowski, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with great.com today. This was really interesting. And again, I wish we had more time together. And for you listening, if you enjoyed us, if you would like to bring this conversation to more people so consumers get more of a choice and better opportunities, please consider subscribing to this interview in YouTube or your podcast app that will help us get through algorithms. Some more people can hear this conversation and start taking action. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you in the next episode.