New Year, New Law: An Analysis of the Consumer Protection Act
The Zimbabwe legislature has gazetted the Consumer Protection Act [Chapter 14:14], No. 5/2019 which seeks to offer more protection to consumers of goods and services in the market place and to eliminate unethical suppliers and improper business practices. This note highlights some of the noteworthy features of the Act. We point out sections of the new Act which expand the scope of consumer rights and how such rights can be enforced. At the end of the note, we point out some of the offences which have been created and the penalties that can be exacted on offenders.
What are consumer rights?
Certain unfair business practices that were previously unregulated are now governed by the Act. In terms of the Act, consumers obtain several new rights and some of the existing rights are broadened and reinforced. Suppliers are duty-bound to ensure that they are aware of these rights and uphold them. Therefore, every supplier will have to evaluate whether their business practices comply with the Act and make the necessary changes.
Section 9 – 51 of the act provides for the fundamental consumer rights as follows:
Right to health and safety – (Sections 10 – 17): Section 10 of the Act affords consumers the right to fair value, good-quality and safety of goods or services. Suppliers are therefore duty bound to offer goods and services that conform to the mandatory safety and quality standards prescribed in accordance with any laws, for example, duty to provide goods or services that are safe and free from any defects and hazards.
Right to choose – Sections 18 to 25 provide for the right to choice. It affords consumers the right to choose goods or services of their preferred choice from their preferred supplier without any undue influence or pressure from suppliers of goods or services. This include the right to select or reject any particular item from selected goods before completion of transaction and the right to return goods after completion of transaction.
Right to information – Product information provided by businesses should always be complete and truthful. Section 26 makes it mandatory for every supplier of any goods or services to disclose information regarding goods or services as well as disclosure of prices in relation to those goods or services.
Section 33 introduces the right to be heard, representations and redress. This right asserts the ability of the consumers to voice complains and concerns about a particular product in order to have the issue handled efficiently and responsively.
Such complaints can be handled by the Commission or the Court of law or through alternative dispute resolution mechanism. In seeking redress, section 33 (2) affords consumers the right to representation.
Right to fair contractual agreements (sections 35 – 51) – Section 35 affords consumers the right to fair and honest dealing and protection from unconscionable conduct. Suppliers or service providers are therefore prohibited from using improper means such as misrepresentation, duress, physical force, undue influence, coercion, harassment or unfair tactics in marketing of goods or services, supply of goods or services, negotiation, conclusion and enforcement of any agreement to supply goods or services.
Enforcement mechanism (sections 55 – 64)
The act offers measures to ensure availability of effective consumer redressal mechanism in the event of violation of consumer rights through the following:
Introduction of a dispute resolution mechanism through voluntary arbitrations conducted by consumer protection organisations. Where a dispute is referred to arbitration, the Arbitration Act shall apply.
Referral to the Commission. Where disputes could not be resolved through alternative dispute resolution mechanism, the matter may be referred to the Commission established in terms of the Act.
Enforcement through Courts. This can be done either through appeal, review or direct access.
Offences and penalties ( sections 78 – 81)
The consuming public has rights and those who provide them with services and goods (supliers) are duty-bound to ensure that they are aware of these rights and uphold them. Any failure to do so will result in corrective and even punitive measures being taken as follows:
Payment of administrative fine; and
Vicarious liability on suppliers/ employers
The act is in line with the international standards such as the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection whose objective is to achieve and maintain adequate protection to consumers through protection legislation, enforcement institutions and redress mechanisms as illustrated above.
This article is provided for informational purposes only. Please seek legal advice from our Corporate Advisory team.