New Consumer Protection Act

- Advertisement -

The Consumer Protection Act was signed by Acting President Kgalema Motlanthle in April 2009. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, the purpose of the Act is to protect consumers from exploitation and unfair practices in the marketplace and empower them to make wise purchasing decisions. The Act touches on many aspects of trade such as warranties, pricing, standards of service and quality, advertising, labelling and marketing.

It provides consumers with a “Bill of Rights” and grants them wide-ranging powers to cancel contracts within cooling periods, refuse to purchase bundled products or services, cancel fixed-term contracts, and block approaches by direct marketers.

The Act will be in operation from October 2010. It will change the relationship between consumers and suppliers drastically.

Until now, the courts have recognised the principle of caveat emptor or “buyer beware” as the governing principle in legal actions between buyers and sellers. If you signed a document, you can’t later claim you didn’t know about a specific clause in it.

Protecting the consumer

The new Act stipulates it’s no longer necessary for a claimant to prove there’s something wrong with a product. They have only to show that they suffered as a result of the product or service to claim damages from producers, distributors or suppliers.There are heavy penalties for anyone found guilty in terms of the Act.

It creates a joint responsibility for the quality of goods and service for all roleplayers in the value chain, and introduces a system of product liability and improved redress. The Act forces suppliers to provide specific warranties to buyers. They can no longer use warranty registration cards to limit their liability in the case of a malfunctioning product. All contracts and labelling must be done in simple, easy to understand language.

Implications for farmers
Farmers have a dual role as consumers and as producers of products that ultimately end up as consumer goods. As consumers they can sue public and other entities who fail to provide services. Farmers who frequently receive bad service can now take these suppliers to court. While government is excluded as a claimant in the Act, it’s not excluded as a service supplier. People may take their local municipality to court.But the Act also holds real threats for farmers as producers of consumer goods. As noted, in the case death, injury or loss, resulting form an agricultural product, the claimant can sue anyone along the value chain.

Anyone who can’t prove they produced a safe product can be found guilty and may even end up in jail. Farmers will have to adhere strictly to good agricultural practices and keep important documents to prove this. While the new Act poses many challenges, farmers will soon find that complying with good agricultural practices actually improves farm efficiency.Dr Koos Coetzee is an agricultural economist at the MPO. All opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect MPO policy.     |fw


- Advertisement -