By exposing the risks of some products marketed to children, Emmy Lucy Smith is making it more difficult and risky for producers to market and sell unsafe products.
The New Idea
In Indonesia, the floodgates of consumerism have opened up in the last decade, and thousands of new products from all over the world have poured in. Many are designed for, or at least marketed to, children under eighteen years old and include everything from toys and games to fast food to cigarettes. But many of these new, and sought-after products are not safe and, as Emmy and her team have begun to show, no one has been checking: consumers (especially child consumers) don't know what to look for, and the government has turned a blind eye to the problem. While consumer rights groups have succeeded in introducing protections in other areas, products marketed to children have received little attention. Emmy uses media campaigns, investigative reporting, and exposés on children injured or killed from having used substandard or dangerous products to raise awareness of this pervasive, and serious problem. She shows the public–children and adults alike–that they must care, that they must hold producers accountable, that only through their aggressive action can they reform the current system and achieve a standard of safety and care for Indonesia's children.
Over one hundred million people living in Indonesia are eighteen years old or younger. This makes children and young adults a significant consumer niche that producers can't afford to overlook. In the past twenty years, consumerism has swept across Indonesia, and cities are now filled with shopping malls and shelves of products that are new, and to many children and teenagers, exciting. Advertisers make the claim that these products–everything from toys to cosmetics to cigarettes to fast food–are necessary for the good life, and so children, teenagers, and their parents buy them, often without pausing to consider who makes the products and whether they are safe for use or consumption. Government agencies do not effectively control what products are sold. Safety standards have been set, it's true, but they are not effectively or consistently enforced. While the Indonesian Consumers' Rights Organization and other consumer rights groups are well-established, they do not reach out to children. The result is that producers who market to this group do not feel accountable to consumers, and the children and teenagers who buy in the spirit of consumerism often find themselves in possession of a product that is not safe or that has undisclosed, harmful side effects.
Established in 1997, Emmy's organization Yayasan Kakak provides reliable information on issues related to children as consumers for use in advocacy campaigns and class action law suits. Staff members at the center collect data through first-hand investigation: they visit shops and markets and probe complaints from consumers who call their office or write in to local or national newspapers. Having begun in one room in Emmy's house, Yayasan Kakak now occupies a rented house with ten full-time staff members and numerous volunteers. Yayasan Kakak exposes numerous cases of exploitation of children as consumers. To cite one example, producers in China were selling toy guns with plastic bullets to Indonesian children. The toys, which were widely distributed, caused serious eye and skin injuries to over two hundred children. After exposing the producer in the media, Emmy succeeded in banning the sale of the harmful toys. In another case, ballpoint pens pedalled near schoolyards across Java were found to emit a chemical that produced a drug-like effect. Documentation of cases and laboratory analysis of the ink gave Yayasan Kakak the back-up it needed to expose the product and get it banned. Prior to a few years ago, there were no regulations to restrict product promotional campaigns; in fact, there was only a code of ethics that advertisers might choose to abide by. As Emmy and her team discovered, the manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes were sponsoring parties for young people and passing out free cigarettes. The campaign Yayasan Kakak launched against this and similar promotional schemes has been successful not only in pressuring the national government to adopt a code of ethics for the promotion of goods, but also is an important step in influencing national policy on advertising. The campaign also brought to the public's attention the type of product-promotional strategies that exploit and endanger children. In its efforts to promote consumer education, Yayasan Kakak has formed a consumers' group of junior high school students who get together to talk about products and consumerism. Emmy and her team plan to step up their educational programs for teachers at the playgroup and kindergarten levels, as well as for parents. Emmy is perfecting her approach to working with these consumer groups to help raise their consciousness and engage the members actively in the campaign. To help spread the message of Yayasan Kakak and develop awareness about consumer rights for children, Emmy relies on partnerships with civil society networks, lawmakers, university students and lecturers, women's groups, and the media. She serves on the five-person presidium of a national coalition of over thirty organizations known as "Child Watch," a group that monitors and documents violations to the rights of children. Working with an experimental theatre director in Solo, she uses songs, posters, and skits in schools and parking lots to educate the public. She is also collaborating with one of Indonesia's leading filmmakers who is currently preparing materials for a new public television station.
Emmy learned responsibility from a young age, as both her parents worked long hours and the household tasks were divided among the four children. For the most part, Emmy did all the cooking for her siblings. As a young adult, she studied agriculture in Central Java, where she produced a comparative study of vegetables grown with chemical fertilizers and those grown organically for her thesis. Upon graduation, she sought work as a volunteer at the Pesticide Action Network. Emmy's concern for consumers' rights developed out of her work with PAN, where she was involved in promoting organic farming and looking at the dangers involved in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. She conducted research, wrote articles and a book, and helped lobby against the agricultural policies endorsed by the government at that time. She then worked for the leading consumer rights group in Indonesia for three years, an experience which exposed her to a broad range of consumer issues and strategies. Although it was at the forefront of the nascent consumers' movement in Indonesia, the organization for which she worked was overwhelmed to the point that it couldn't serve all clients. Following discussions with her colleagues, Emmy decided to start her own organization to focus on an area she saw as being urgent and overlooked: children's rights as consumers. With support from friends and colleagues, she established Yayasan Kakak in Surakarta, Central Java, in 1997. The first project Yayasan Kakak undertook was a media campaign on products being marketed to replace breast milk. As cover for her investigative efforts, Emmy took along her new baby to visit pediatricians who were promoting harmful products. The campaign gained national attention and support.