IF you try to search for consumer rights or protection information on Zimbabwe, there is very little on the subject.
To make matters worse, the Consumer Protection Commission does not have a website.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe needs a complete website revamp.
Zimbabweans are being exploited by local authorities that charge for refuse collection but do not render the service.
They also charge for water but the supply is erratic.
Some financial services providers deduct bank charges even if depositors donot make withdrawals from their accounts.
In Zimbabwe, consumers do not know their legal rights and they are exploited.
The role of a Consumer Protection Commission is to enforce consumer protection laws and regulations.
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It must oversee and promote consumer rights and interests.
The commission was established when the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) came into force in December 2019.
The CPA was designed to protect consumers from unfair practices, ensure their rights are respected, and provide avenues for seeking redress in disputes.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a significant role in protecting consumers through the CPA in ways that include:
Access to information
ICT enables consumers to access relevant and accurate information about products, services, prices, and consumer rights.
Online platforms, websites, and mobile applications provide consumers with the ability to compare options, read reviews, and make informed decisions.
The CPA mandates businesses to provide transparent and accurate information, and ICT facilitates the dissemination of such information to consumers.
Online dispute resolution
With the growth of e-commerce and online transactions, ICT provides platforms for online dispute resolution. Consumers can file complaints, seek redress, and engage in mediation or arbitration processes through online portals or platforms.
This allows for convenient and efficient resolution of consumer disputes, without the need for physical presence or lengthy legal procedures.
Online consumer forums, reviews
ICT platforms, such as consumer forums, social media, and review websites, empower consumers to share their experiences and opinions about products and services.
This facilitates consumer advocacy and helps other consumers make informed choices.
The CPA recognises the importance of consumer feedback and encourages the use of ICT platforms for consumer discussions and feedback.
Online consumer protection
ICT platforms can serve as channels for consumer protection awareness campaigns.
Government agencies, consumer organisations, and businesses can leverage websites, social media, and online advertising to educate consumers about their rights, responsibilities, and available remedies.
This helps in spreading awareness and promoting a culture of consumer protection.
Online enforcement, monitoring
ICT tools enable authorities to monitor and enforce consumer protection laws more effectively.
They can track online advertisements, scrutinise e-commerce platforms for compliance with regulations, and detect unfair trade practices or misleading information.
ICT-based tools also assist in collecting data on consumer complaints, identifying patterns of violations, and taking appropriate enforcement actions.
Online transaction security
ICT plays a crucial role in ensuring the security of online transactions.
Businesses are required to adopt information security measures to protect consumer data and financial information.
ICT technologies, such as encryption, secure payment gateways, and authentication mechanisms, help in safeguarding consumer information and transactions.
It is important to note that while ICT provides various avenues for consumer protection, it also presents new challenges and risks, such as online fraud, data breaches, and privacy concerns.
Therefore, it is necessary for consumer protection laws, including the CPA, to adapt and address these emerging issues to provide comprehensive protection to consumers in the digital age.
Consumer protection commission
Regulatory oversight: The commission has the authority to enforce and regulate compliance with consumer protection laws and regulations. This can involve monitoring and investigating businesses for violations, conducting audits, and imposing penalties or fines for non-compliance.
Consumer education and awareness: The commission plays a role in educating consumers about their rights, responsibilities, and available remedies. This can involve conducting public awareness campaigns, providing information and resources to consumers, and promoting consumer education initiatives.
Complaint handling and dispute resolution: The commission receives and handles consumer complaints and inquiries regarding unfair practices, defective products, or other consumer-related issues. They may provide assistance and guidance to consumers in resolving disputes with businesses, and facilitate mediation or arbitration processes.
Policy development and advocacy: The commission contributes to the development of consumer protection policies and regulations. They conduct research, gather data, and provide recommendations to the government or relevant authorities on improving consumer protection laws and practices. They may also advocate for consumer rights and interests in policy discussions.
Market monitoring and enforcement: The commission monitors the marketplace to identify trends, issues, and emerging risks to consumers. They conduct investigations into potential violations of consumer protection laws, initiate legal proceedings against non-compliant businesses, and collaborate with other regulatory agencies or law enforcement authorities.
Collaboration and coordination: The commission collaborates with other government agencies, consumer organisations, and industry stakeholders to promote consumer protection. This involves sharing information, coordinating enforcement efforts, and participating in relevant forums or working groups
These consumer protection laws are made to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices, defective products, and dangerous goods and services.
They play an important role in a reliable market economy, helping to keep sellers honest, with no threat of unpleasant surprises.
CPA protects consumers through
Product safety: The CPA sets standards for product safety, mandating that manufacturers and sellers provide goods that are safe for consumers to use.It includes provisions for product labelling, warnings, and instructions to minimise risks to consumers.
Fair trading practices: The Act prohibits unfair or deceptive trade practices such as false advertising, misleading claims, or fraudulent schemes. It ensures that businesses provide accurate and truthful information about their products or services, preventing consumers from being misled or deceived.
The CPA outlines certain fundamental rights that consumers possess, including the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to safety, the right to be heard, and the right to seek redress.
These rights empower consumers and provide a legal basis for seeking remedies in case of violations.
Redress mechanisms: The Act establishes mechanisms for consumers to seek redress when they face issues with products or services, such as providing avenues for filing complaints, seeking refunds or replacements, or obtaining compensation for damages caused by defective products or unfair practices.
Consumer forums and authorities: The CPA provides for the establishment of consumer forums and authorities at various levels to adjudicate consumer disputes.These bodies are empowered to hear consumer complaints, mediate between parties, and provide speedy and cost-effective resolution of disputes.
Class action suits: The Act allows for class action suits, whereby a group of consumers, who have suffered similar harm can collectively seek redress against a business or service provider. This mechanism enhances the ability of consumers to hold corporations accountable for unfair practices or defective products.
Consumer education and awareness: The CPA emphasises the importance of consumer education and awareness.
It encourages the dissemination of information about consumer rights, responsibilities, and available remedies. By promoting consumer education, the Act aims to empower individuals to make informed choices and protect themselves from unfair practices. The Sadc Declaration on Regional Competition and Consumer Policies and the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Policies recognise and enunciate the rights of the consumer. The CPA is in line with the UN guidelines as it guarantees the following consumer rights:
The right to consumer education and awareness,
The right to health and safety,
The right to choose,
The right to information,
The right to be heard, representation and redress; and
The right to fair contractual agreements.
Overall, the CPA plays a crucial role in safeguarding consumer interests by establishing legal protections, providing remedies for violations, and promoting fair and transparent business practices.
It aims to create a more equitable and balanced relationship between consumers and businesses.
Further, monitoring, supervision, and enforcement are key to the success of the Act.
Consumer and other civil society organisations play an important role in monitoring outcomes and providing actions following enforcement.
There is a need to enforce stricter penalties for those that breach the Act’s provisions. Above that, self-help is the ideal way to overcome problems. If every consumer becomes aware of his/her rights and the remedies available against exploitation and unscrupulous activities, then business people will not be able to exploit consumers.
Therefore, consumers must be made aware and educated about their rights. They should know how to protect themselves against malpractices.
- Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments(Pvt) Ltd. He is the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.