Vodacom Consumer Protection Act cartoon

Vodacom Consumer Protection Act

Out of box failure – Consumer Protection Act

The one thing that the Consumer Protection Act is unlikely to protect consumers from is the clever legal minds at large corporates. Most efforts that the government takes to protect consumers can be skilfully deconstructed and worked into some complicated legalese that attempts to absolve the company from its obligations. These are the dreaded terms and conditions. But are these really effective?

Consider the following experience: you buy a new cell phone on some typically fleecing contract from one of South Africa’s mobile phone monopolies. You go home all excited with your new gadget and open the box only to be dismayed that something is faulty with the phone. “Ok, chill,” you think as you head back to the store, “an unfortunate extra trip but at least they’ll replace it so I can get to the fun of reloading all my contacts!” When you arrive at the store, the storekeeper innocently shrugs their shoulders. He informs you that you signed a waiver that allows them to send the phone for ‘investigation’ for a period of up to a week, after which they will replace it IF it is found to be faulty.

“Huh?” you reply, more than a little irritated. “So, you’ll give me another phone while I wait for you to get me a working product, right?”

“Actually, no sorry,” replies the storekeeper, “Didn’t you read the terms and conditions?” At this point your eyes are about to bulge out of their sockets and your face is generating enough heat to have a small spit-braai in the store.

Of course, you grit your teeth and argue vehemently, but resistance is futile. You just get a sympathetic look from the sales person with a comment like “Sorry, that’s the procedure – we just follow it. We can’t change it.”

So, in this case, you’ve essentially been forced to waive your rights under the guise of corporate policy or store terms and conditions. You basically wind up paying for a product or service that you cannot use for a period of time while the supplier does what they need to in order to protect their own interests first. Where is the equity in that for the consumer?

Before suppliers throw their hands up in angst with this article, Wonkie would like to acknowledge that suppliers have rights too. Suppliers also generally have more resources to defend themselves legally when it comes to protecting their own rights. E.g. try bottling your own brand of township cola and pasting a Coca-Cola label on it and see hor far you get trying to sell it. Consumers on the other hand usually have limited resources and know-how to take on big corporates – hence the Consumer Protection Act.

It is not correct for corporates to strong-arm consumers, implicitly or explicitly, into accepting these waivers to their rights. While this is not true in all cases, there may certainly be grounds to file a legitimate complaint if you find yourself paying for a product or service that you don’t receive – and this too, regardless of what you may have signed. If you did not understand the full implications of the agreement, or the associated fine print, then you still have recourse to the law.

Customers should also be aware that signing anything that would protect the supplier against supplier negligence is generally considered worthless in law. So, for example, suppose you have signed something stating “blah blah blah… at your own risk.” If something happens and the supplier is found to be negligent, you – the customer can still sue them and the fact that you signed some contract absolving the supplier will mean nothing. You still have your rights regardless, and the law will protect you.

An interesting question here, is whether it is ethical for corporates to engage in such behaviour in the first place. After all, what is the value of getting customers to waive their rights under the Consumer Protection Act, when those very rights are what the state has considered worthy of protection?

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  1. Isaac@bloem says

    maybe this dept should hire these corporate attorneys to draft these laws

  2. Andre Piek says

    Isaac@Bloem – haha! That’s a great idea – set a thief to catch a thief 😉

    Thanks for a good article Wonkie – I’ve had something similar in the past and just let it slide because it was too much hassle and stress to pursue. Next time I think I will though – tired of getting taken advantage of by big business.

    I read a comment on your last post about not being able to charge more for paying by credit card – is that true?

  3. Wonkie you raised the nightmare without giving a solution.
    What kind of service is that? This is why people, when confronted with this nightmare, simply give up. They don’t know what to do or where to go. They also realise that it’s going to cost time and possibly more money in the long run. So Wonkie, why not break in here and give ALL the answers, i.e. All Our rights, Addresses, Phone numbers and best of all, how to go about the whole process. That I feel would be more of a service to the community than simply raising all the Ghosts. C’MON!

  4. S. Aggarwal says

    I would like to suggest some points in this regard.
    Firstly the awareness that Consumer is King has to be spread amongst the Consumers by advertisements in newspaper and TV now and then by the Govt. itself. Similarly some Non Govt. organisations should work to educate the general consumers of how to protectr their interest and what their rightsare. They can go a step further by having some readymade formats of how to lodge the complaint and to address their grievances by issuing notices to the Sellers. If such readymade formats are made available to the Consumers who have just to fill in the blanks and either submit to the NGO or post directly to the Sellers demanding releifs, such a practice can create a very positive results form getting quick attendance and reliefs. Also publishing on Facebook, Twitters and the like communication media about complaints, the company names and blacklisting and urging the readers to boycott those companies and their products should prove a great deterrent at least for the brand name companies. Kindly understand that all above is written with the idea that the companies or Sellers should attend to the compalints with diligence and to create in them of grave consequences of Consumers boycott and having bad name for their company and products.

  5. Deena Naidoo says

    I donno! If I’m put in a situation whereby a brand new something, straight out of the box doesn’t work, heads are going to roll. That’s the main reason why I get all my electrical and electronic purchases tested instore before I leave. If I’m paying for it, I must see with my own peepers that it works. To hell with your company’s policies, it’s my money.

  6. come to the rescue of illiterate people and these rulers should have made development of illiterate people its priority so that they understand a little bit of the law and its implications.

    its now the task of the human rights commission to embark on a country wide roadshow educating citizens about their rights under the law

  7. Agree with Ron. The issues relating to this topic is far toooo much detail concerning suppliers, services and consumers to respond. Traders and consumers have all various ethics and motives. Manufacturers , services and producers of fresh products ?????

  8. Tim, you are so right. The trouble with this country is that there are too many illiterate, gullible people who are too trusting, especially in politicians. They need to be educated and I vote Deena Naidoo to head up that commission!

  9. Hi Tim, happy to see you again. You have the nail on the right spot the emphesis should be on education but not just on one law but all of it and it includes those in power. Some of those in power ignores the laws themselves and that unfortunately is the bad excample most are following.

  10. Consumer Law like Labour Law does not place the Supplier or the Employer in legal jeopardy. What it does is it allows the offended party such as the worker or the employee a means to take their issue to court. If the worker or consumer wins the case all they get is compensation equal to the physical loss not damages. They may win court costs , but that is never the full legal costs. Moreover, big Corporates hire big Corporate Law firms to delay the processes through appeals, counter suits and harassment until the workers and consumers either give up, run out of money or just get exhausted. I have seen labour cases take in excess of 5 years before it is abandoned. Often Lawyers will argue enough to get minor changes to case law, which if accumulated over time renders the law irrelevant and impossible to litigate against. Untils such time as violations of the Laws can be reported to the Police and be prosecuted and the Corporate owners and Directors are flung into jail. There will remain little or no protection for thaose who are abused by these same Companies. (Fines are no good, Corporates are willing to pay to avoid fixing the problem. Some companies keep a big fat slush fund to pay fines for violations of the Employment Equity Act and other Laws).

  11. Multichoice were quick to amend their Terms and Conditions for DSTV subscribers shortly before the act came into force. The new terms seem to be cleverly worded by their crafty lawyers to circumvent the CPA! (Thankfully I am no longer one of the suckers who hand over large chunks of hard-earned money to them anymore having cancelled my contract with their latest unwarranted increase)

  12. Consumers have been fleeced for far too long. This act,though protecting consumers in part, may also herald the death knell for some smaller businesses.

  13. FNB put out a leaflet on the advantages of having a credit card with them. Amongst these are free global travel insurance. What they do not say is that when you get to the 70’s and on, the insurance is no more free, but charged for. One finds this out after the ticket is bought with the credit card, and realize one has been conned! makes one think that older people who spend money should spend more, this is besides the fact that older people have supported their institution for over 4o or more years.

  14. I’m dumb. Give me some maths

  15. I recently (very silly of me in a weak moment) signed up for a(making money on-line Program) They took my money very quickly and I cannot download anything. Lots of promises to fix it but am still waiting. ASked for a refund but they said that they will ony give me 25% of the money they took from me. I cannot get anywhere with them and when I do they ask the same question over and over again and I am so scared that they are going to take my money again.I am a Pensioner. What can I do???

  16. @U2R1 – not only FNB, Standard Bank as well. we are all little minnows in a tank full of sharks.

  17. GatvolinSA says

    @ tanni & U2R1 : Time for us little minnows to gather together and swim in bigger schools with a few dolphin bodyguards then! In other words, vote with your feet and your wallet. For complaints, try lodging a comment with Hello Peter online. I find that this is the best way to get a rapid response from the management of companies who respond. I also go onto the same site and read the reviews of any company I am thinking of doing business with. Too many bad reviews or unresolved complaints and I take my business elsewhere. Large companies need to learn that WE pay their salaries. WE are the ones that should be taken care of, not their shareholders!

  18. erm… wonkie, you used CORPORATE and ETHICAL in the same sentence??

  19. Here is a tip for anyone considering buying an investment of any type including insurances, annuities, endowments, unit trusta or any pension program. Do not let the broker into your house. Visit the broker at the office and make sure that it is a big financial company. Some years ago I purchased an investment from a broker who had sold me an endowment with Sanlam. The investment was a debenture which was hijacked by some financial terrorists. When I tried to claim from Sanlam they told me that it was not a Sanlam investment and their broker sold it to me on his own account despite the fact that the documentation came in a Sanlam folder. Beware, the real crooks wear dark suits and expensive ties.

  20. U2R1, you must realise that the job of the banks, insurers, and other Financial institutions is to get your pension by any means. All of your pension, assets and any other funds. They are committed to ensuring that you die in poverty.

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