Twenty years ago a group of women got together to safeguard the rights of consumers, they wanted to know what rights and responsibilities they were supposed to have when buying from sellers and businesses. They wanted to make sure they were getting value for their money. In 1994 therefore, in the quest for knowledge on the rights and responsibilities of consumers, the National Consumers Forum (NATCOF) was born. Seychellois from all walks of life gradually joined this forum and clearly set out a vision to build a strong consumer force that would advocate on behalf of all consumers in Seychelles and assert themselves to avoid exploitation by traders and others. Within the first five years, NATCOF had its first executive committee and lobbied for the enactment of a Consumers Protection Act.
Educational activities kicked off following a survey on consumer knowledge to identify the gaps in this area. NATCOF volunteers spread out in the communities on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue to mobilise support and recruit members. The launching of its first newsletter, commemorations of World Consumer Rights days followed by the introduction of consumer education in schools in collaboration with the Ministry of Education showed that they meant business. To encourage consumers to make the best buying decisions NATCOF also launched a price watch programme.
In its 20 years of existence NATCOF became a member of Consumers International (CI). Members of the Forum participated in a number of international meetings and workshops either to represent NATCOF or to build capacity of its members and partners. NATCOF also hosted international meetings in Seychelles dealing with consumer issues and welcomed and facilitated the visit of important delegations. It is through these exchanges, that NATCOF today
enjoys excellent collaborations and relations with several regional and international organizations, countries and experts. In the context of local partnership and collaboration NATCOF is represented on a long list of national committees. It was through effective advocacy that the role of NATCOF was recognized and the consumers’ voice was heard when major decisions that concern them were being made.
Consumer education is one of the most important objectives and main accomplishment of NATCOF . Over the years, the Forum has used a variety of mediums to ensure that its members and the public are constantly kept informed of their rights and responsibility, as well as any issues of concern and trends on the market. These mediums include publications, radio and television programs and spots, exhibitions, participation in local public activities and community meetings. It is clear that these activities have helped to successfully establish NATCOF as a credible source of information and education for consumers and it has also created a lot of expectations from the public in that context.
As a watch dog organization NATCOF has registered, investigated and reported on hundreds of complaints from its members and the public on a wide variety of issues ranging from prices, labeling of food products to the quality of products being sold. The secretariat of NATCOF has expanded to several full time
employees as an attempt to discharge the responsibilities of the Forum. Unfortunately financial resources have limited the expansion of a secretariat that would have been ideal to assume the increasing demand services and advise, therefore the Forum has had to prioritize its work based on the most pressing issues at anygiven time.
During the past twenty years the financial and economic landscape of Seychelles has changed dramatically and NATCOF has been adapting its strategy to cater for these changes. Consumer habits, knowledge and expectations have also changed. The recently free market economy is exposing consumers to a wide range of products, competition and aggressive advertising. Twenty years can be a good time to take stock, it can also be a new beginning in a new market environment, but the vision and dream of those women who 20 years ago woke up to do something about the rights and responsibilities of consumers is even more alive and vibrant today.
NATCOF is still representing the consumers regardless of their beliefs, race or social background. It still sees its responsibilities not only towards its members but also towards every consumer and their social well-being.