This is the second in a three part series on the Consumer Protection Act. Also read Part I: The CPA and the Business Owner. Coming soon…'Part III: The CPA and Franchisors'.
In 1962, then US President John F. Kennedy presented Congress with a revolutionary idea – he proposed four basic consumer rights, regulating consumer interaction with the producers or suppliers of the goods or services they purchased. At that time, producers and suppliers essentially held the upper hand, with consumers not having much recourse to defend themselves against ‘malicious business practices’ or faulty or defective goods.
In time, Kennedy’s consumer bill of rights was expanded to include six basic consumer rights, and, by 1985 eight consumer rights were endorsed by the United Nations. The United Nations consumer rights endorsement finally gave the consumer movement international legitimacy. In South Africa, however, the consumer movement lagged behind the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, largely a result of international isolation.
In 2004, a National Consumer Survey by the Department of Trade and Industry showed that South African consumers do not have a clear idea of what their consumer rights are. Amongst other things, the new Consumer Protection Act, No. 68 of 2008 aims to promote an economic environment that supports and strengthens a culture of consumer rights and responsibilities.
Definition of a Consumer
A consumer is not just an individual; it can be a company, too. In fact, the Consumer Protection Act defines a consumer as any juristic person to whom goods or services are marketed in the ordinary course of the supplier’s business. A juristic person includes any individual, company, body corporate, partnership or association, or trust as defined in the Trust Property Act No. 57 of 1988, with an annual turnover of up to R3m.
What are my consumer rights?
The Consumer Protection Act entrenches eight fundamental consumer rights. These are:
- The right of equality in the consumer market, including the right to protection against discriminatory marketing
- The right to privacy, including the right to restrict unwanted direct marketing
- The right to choose products and services based on a comparison of quality and price
- The right to disclosure and information, including the right to receive product information, terms and conditions and contracts in plain and understandable language
- The right to fair and responsible marketing, which means that suppliers must adhere to the general standards relating to marketing practices which are set out in the Act
- The right to fair and honest dealings, which includes protection against unethical conduct and false or misleading representations and fraudulent schemes or offers
- The right to fair, reasonable and just terms and conditions; the courts will be suitably empowered to enforce consumer rights
- The right to fair value, good quality and safety, which includes an implied warranty of quality inherent to all transactions and agreements, and that the supplier has complied with the requirements and standards of the Act.
What are consumer responsibilities?
According to the National Consumer Forum, an organization which raises awareness about consumer issues, thousands of consumers are victims of harmful or unfair business practices. While the Consumer Protection Act empowers the consumer, consumers also need to realise their considerable responsibilities, and the Consumer Protection Act encourages increased consumer activism. The National Consumer Forum and the Department of Trade and Industry identify our consumer responsibilities as:
- Critical Awareness – the responsibility to be alert and question price, quality and the conditions under which the goods and services we consume are produced
- Action – the responsibility to assert ourselves, and to ensure that we get a fair deal
- Social Concern – the responsibility to be aware of how our consumption affects other citizens, particularly disadvantaged or disempowered groups
- Environmental Awareness – the responsibility to acknowledge the consequences our consumption has on the environment and that we have an individual and collective responsibility to conserve our national resources
- Solidarity – the responsibility to stand together to promote and protect our interests as consumers.
The National Consumer Commissioner
In October 2010, Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies, recommended former Director-General of Communications Mamodupi Mohlala for the position of Commissioner of the National Consumer Commission, with effect from 1 November 2010. The National Consumer Commissioner will be responsible for managing and directing the activities of the National Consumer Commission in terms of the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, to develop codes of practice, promote legislative reform on national and provincial level which affects consumer welfare, promote consumer protection within organs of state and all other matters pertaining to the functions of the National Consumer Commission. Says the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Consumer Commission should be operational by December 2010.
Handy consumer resources:
Author: Franchise Finder, Online Directory of Franchises and Business Opportunities in South Africa