Consumer Act protects buyers

MOST South African businesses seem to be blissfully unaware that the Consumer Protection Act will soon be coming into effect.

MOST South African businesses seem to be blissfully unaware that the Consumer Protection Act will soon be coming into effect.

The Act, which aims to promote a fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services, was signed into law last year and comes into effect on October 24. The Act makes South Africans the most protected consumers in the world.

Neville Melville, at the launch of his book, The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy, said in terms of Section 61 of the Act, a producer, importer, distributor or retailer of goods is liable to a consumer on a no-fault basis for harm, including death, injury, physical damage or associated economic loss, which was caused by unsafe or defective goods.

"This has implications for retailers over the World Cup period, bearing in mind that our courts have already made an award of over R500million in favour of a Swiss-based millionaire paralysed in a motorcycle accident," Melville said.

He recommended that all businesses, service providers, franchises, NGOs, trade unions and municipalities start preparing for its implementation now . He has set up a website, to assist them

Melville said it is no longer a world where buyers need to beware, but sellers do.

The Global Prospectus Training will conduct a CPA symposium on March 30 at Southern Sun Grayston Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The conference will explain the nitty-gritty of the Act and how best to align one's business to its provisions and even turn them around for your good.

The new Act aims to promote consumer participation in decision-making processes concerning the marketplace and the interests of consumers.

It introduces a "fourth leg" to the traditional tripartite approach to planning and implementing policies.

Paul Crankshaw, editor of Consumer Fair newspaper will focus on how business and government will need to reconsider the way they see, engage and support consumer groups at a strategic and operational level.

Neil Kirby, a director at Werksmans Incorporating Jan S de Villiers, will speak on "Speak no evil, hear no evil, buy no evil - The right to fair and honest marketing and its impact and implications."

Kirby said consumer rights are to come in all shapes and sizes and with more implications, legal effects and consequences than Hurricane Katrina.

Rosalind Lake, an associate at Deneys Reitz Inc, will explain how the Act will shift power into the hands of consumers.

She said consumers are often at the mercy of service providers, with limited avenues to address their grievances. The CPA concretises the consumer's right to choose in relation to certain specified situations and gives them the power to make informed choices and enforce their rights.

Her presentation will consider the effect of these provisions for consumers and suppliers with a particular focus on the right to select suppliers, the effect on fixed-term agreements and consumers' right to return goods.

To the insurance industry, the Act could be seen as an opportunity to expand markets through the design of insurance products that increase revenue, but on the other hand it will have an effect on the way insurers conduct business.

Danie Swart, Compliance and Internal Audit Officer - Renasa Insurance Company will offer an insurer's perspective of the Act and shed light on how it will affect a business' insurance needs.

The CPA will significantly change the landscape within which franchises operate. Up to now, this industry has relied on self-regulation. Now franchisees will be regarded as consumers and afforded various protection, and therefore franchise agreements will have to comply. One session of the conference will explore the effect of the Act on the franchise sector in much detail.

Janusz F Luterek, Pr.Eng, Partner of Hahn & Hahn Attorneys, who will talk about practical keys to ensuring compliance, said compliance with the Act will be driven both by the consumer commission and consumers.

Attend the symposium to learn about your rights. Call Kate Netsianda at 011-781-6222 or e-mail