International Review of Social History



The Consumer Movement and Civil Society in Malaysia


Matthew Hilton 

Abstract

This paper examines the consumer movement in Malaysia, especially the Consumers' Association of Penang and the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations. It traces their history from the late 1960s, through a period of rapid social and economic change associated with the New Economic Policy of the 1970s and 1980s. Partly because of the absence of other NGOs in Malaysia (due to government clampdowns on civil society), consumer groups were able to take a prominent position and to develop socio-political campaigns on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. This proved an inspiration to consumer organizing globally, especially in the developed world, but it is not clear that consumerism as a social movement can be sustained. Since the mid-1980s, other NGOs have emerged, eclipsing the influence of consumerism, and promoting a human rights agenda which has overtaken the politics of consumption as the dominant oppositional rhetoric of non-governmental groups.

(Published Online November 21 2007)