Schools must stick to cheaper school uniform rules, warns competition watchdog

As back-to-school season returns, the Competition Commission called on parents to alert them if schools do not comply with the uniform guidelines issued by the department of basic education. These include: 

1. School uniforms should be as generic as possible, so that it is accessible from as many suppliers as possible.

2. Exclusivity should be limited to items that schools regard as necessary to obtain from pre-selected suppliers, for example badges.

3. Schools should follow a competitive bidding process when appointing suppliers.

4. Schools should appoint more than one supplier in order to give parents more options.

5. The concluded agreements should be of limited duration.

The commission said that the Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa - an association of largely public schools - as well as the Independent Schools of Southern Africa, made a public pledge to comply with these guidelines.

The Commission last year also signed agreements to curb high school uniform prices, and anticompetitive behaviour,  with several private schools including Curro, Advtech and Reddam House - following "constructive engagements and a remarkable cooperation" by the schools.

In January 2017, the Commission launched an investigation into allegations of anti-competitive behaviour in the school uniform market, as a response to complaints from parents and school uniform suppliers. While parents had to contend with paying excessive prices for uniforms, some supplier complained of market exclusion as some schools had entered into exclusive contracts with certain school uniform suppliers.

The regulator on Wednesday morning said it is continuing engagements with relevant stakeholders, including private schools, school uniform suppliers, governing bodies and government to ensure there is compliance and adequate monitoring and oversight on the issue.

The Commission is currently working with various schools to assist them in building capacity needed to monitor and manage "anti-competitive conduct". These interventions include phasing out exclusive and evergreen contracts with suppliers.

The Commission added that introducing reasonable and affordable prices for uniforms will be a gradual process and urged parents and guardians to help in monitoring anti-competitive conduct in schools. The Commission encouraged parents and guardians to insist that governing bodies implement the uniform guidelines. 

"The success of the initiative to bring reasonable and affordable uniforms depends largely on involved and active patents. If governing bodies manage schools on behalf of their parents, it cannot be that parents must bear the brunt of expensive prices," the Commission said.

Compiled by Lameez Omarjee

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