Everyone’s a winner

2008-05-09 00:00

"You have been specially selected for this fantastic offer, and since you are such a great customer, we are proud to offer you another way to waste your hard-earned money". Flippancy aside Such offers may soon be illegal once the Consumer Protection Bill is passed.

The DTI’s long-awaited Consumer Protection Bill was tabled in Parliament on May 6 and is set to change the way we all do business in South Africa. Reaction to the Bill seems to depend on whether you agree with state intervention in the marketplace or whether you believe the market will govern itself. The preamble of the Bill states the need to address the apartheid legacy of poverty, illiteracy and other forms of social and economic inequality, and states the need to promote the rights of previously disadvantaged people as consumers. In addition it aims to "protect low-income people or communities and those in remote or rural areas, minors and the elderly, and those whose ability to read and understand any advertisement, label or agreement or warning is limited."

Fed up with endless phone calls telling you how special you are and the next great offer that you have been selected for? Such sales tactics will be regulated as the consumer’s right to privacy includes the right to refuse any direct marketing approach, and may also set aside days where consumers may not be contacted at all.

The Bill outlines fundamental consumer rights: from the right of equality in the consumer market, the right to privacy of personal information, and my favourite, the right to restrict unwanted telephone access to the consumer. In addition, the consumer has the right to choose, to disclosure and information, to fair and responsible marketing.

The section dealing with unconscionable conduct forbids the use of physical force, coercion, undue influence, pressure or harassment, unfair tactics, or any similar conduct. This will disallow any pressure tactics in sales and should provide protection for vulnerable consumers.

The consumer will also be able to cancel fixed term contracts, by giving 20-days’ notice in writing, and this includes continuous service agreements. Perhaps this means a new way for cellphone service providers to do business. All great so far, but how will it affect how you do business? The Bill will seriously affect your rights and the way you conduct your business, whether you are a manufacturer, service provider or sales person. According to a recent article on biz-community.co.za the Corporate Lawyers Association and the Marketing Association of South Africa are concerned enough about the implications of the Bill to hold workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town. In addition the Corporate Lawyers Association is asking marketers to make submissions to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) regarding the Bill before May 15. For details for the workshop go to www.sbs.co.za/cpb2006.

Among the provisions of the Bill is the prohibition against overselling and overbooking, which means that frequent flyers will no longer be left stranded and will be able to get redress in money back with interest.

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