Consumer Protection Act - Winds of Change

Recent advancements in South African law has had the effect of pitching our legal system far ahead of most other countries. With the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008, South Africa is now on par with consumers in first world countries.  

This new Act will now place South Africans among some of the most protected consumers in the world by putting power back into the hands of the consumer and will protect against unscrupulous business practices by giving effect to internationally recognised consumer rights.  As we enter into a new consumer-centric era armed with progressive legislation and an intention to address the imbalance of power between the supplier and consumer, and with consumers becoming increasingly knowledgeable and empowered, there will inevitably be radical adjustments to the way business is conducted.

By way of chronological introduction, the Act was signed into law on 24th April 2009 and came into effect in two main phases.  Certain organisational provisions of the Act came into effect on 24th April 2010. This is regarded as the ‘early effective date’. All other provisions came into effect on 1st April 2011. This is regarded as the ‘general effective date’.

The Act brings about immense yet pertinent changes to how suppliers engage with consumers. Essentially, the Act places the onus on the supplier to always supply the consumer with honest information when marketing products and services that will enable the consumer to make empowered decisions.  The prevailing theme of consumer empowerment is a key pillar in implementing the consumer protection legislation and evening the playing fields.

To further establish this theme the Act outlines certain basic, unalienable rights that will be enjoyed by the consumer to ensure justice and equity in the market place. Chapter two of the Act titled:  ‘Fundamental Consumer Rights’ makes provision for the following:

  1. The right to equality in the consumer market and the protection against discriminatory marketing;
  2. The right to privacy;
  3. The right to choose;
  4. The right to disclosure of information;
  5. The right to fair and responsible marketing;
  6. The right to fair and honest dealing;
  7. The right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions; and
  8. The right to fair value, good quality and safety.

These rights are given effect to by imposing the obligation on suppliers’ to be accountable to consumers; and by the consumer’s further right to be heard and obtain redress in instances where suppliers operate in contravention of the rights of the consumer.

What gives the Act a slight amount of additional clout is the repercussions that wayward suppliers will now be liable for. Companies that fail to comply with the terms of the Act can face penalties as severe as administrative fines of up to R1 000 000.00 or 10% of their annual turnover - whichever is greater. 

It is hoped that the long-term cumulative effect of establishing national norms and standards of consumer protection will reduce the proliferation of low quality and unsafe products; the improved standards of consumer information will change the lack of awareness of rights as a consumer to finally address discriminatory and unfair market practices; and the weak enforcement capacity that consumers have labored under in the past will be abolished by increased avenues of redress now available to the consumer – all with the ultimate effect of positively impacting on our lifestyle and economy. 

 

Written by:   Quraysha Mohamed (Professional Assistant)

  • Added 25 May 2011

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