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Safeguarding Consumer Rights: Unpacking the Consumer Protection Act

By Kelvin Sabao

Consumer protection is a fundamental aspect of any economy, ensuring that individuals are treated fairly and ethically in the marketplace.

In Zimbabwe, the Consumer Protection Act [Chapter 14:14] stands as a pivotal legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights and interests of consumers.

This article delves into the key provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, shedding light on the rights it affords to consumers and the mechanisms in place for their enforcement.

-The right to consumer education and awareness
The Consumer Protection Act (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) underscores the importance of consumer education and awareness.

Consumers have the right to be informed about their choices, responsibilities, benefits, costs and potential risks associated with the goods and services they acquire.

-The Act encourages initiatives that empower consumers through education, enabling them to make informed decisions in the marketplace.

The right to health and safety

Recognizing the paramount importance of health and safety, the Act grants consumers the right to products and services that meet the highest standards of safety.

-Manufacturers and service providers are obligated to ensure that their offerings do not pose a threat to the health and well-being of consumers.

-Suppliers who are in the business of packaging any hazardous or unsafe goods for supply to consumers are mandated by the Act to display on or within that packaging a notice that draws the consumer’s attention to the fact that the goods in the package are hazardous and could lead to serious injury or death.

For instance, cigarette manufacturers are mandated by law to put a notice on the cigarette package drawing the consumer’s attention to the risks associated with smoking.

-The right to choose
Consumers are entitled to a wide range of choices in the marketplace.

This entails the right to choose goods and services of their preferred choice without any undue influence or pressure from suppliers of goods or services.

The Act prohibits anti-competitive practices and ensures that consumers have the freedom to choose from various products and services, fostering a competitive and diverse market.

-The right to information
The Act mandates that consumers have access to clear and accurate information about goods and services.

Suppliers are obligated to provide transparent and comprehensive details, allowing consumers to make well-informed decisions. This includes disclosing the price of goods or services.

The Act obliges the supplier to display a price for anything used in connection with the goods (e.g. tickets, label, package, reel, shelf) or on the goods or services mounted for display or exposed for sale.

-The right to be heard, representation and redress

In the event of disputes, consumers have the right to be heard and represented.

The Act establishes mechanisms for resolving consumer complaints, ensuring that consumers have access to fair and effective dispute resolution processes.

The Act provides that a consumer has a right to have his or her complaints heard before the Consumer Protection Commission and to seek redress through alternative dispute resolutions.

-The right to fair contractual agreements
Consumers are entitled to fair and transparent contractual agreements. Unfair contract terms that disadvantage consumers are prohibited under the Act, promoting fairness and equity in commercial transactions.

Consumer’s right to cooling-off period after direct marketing

-To protect consumers from impulsive decisions, the Act grants a cooling-off period after direct marketing.

This allows consumers to reconsider their purchases and, if necessary, withdraw from the transaction without facing undue consequences within five business days after the purchase.

The right to cancel advance reservation, booking or order
Consumers have the right to cancel advance reservations, bookings, or orders under specified conditions.

Consumers are endowed with the right to cancel any prearranged booking, reservation, or order for the provision of goods or services.

In instances where a supplier commits to supplying goods or services on a later date and requires an upfront deposit, they may levy a reasonable cancellation fee as stipulated by regulations.

However, it is essential to note that a supplier is prohibited from imposing any cancellation charges if the consumer is unable to fulfil the booking, reservation, or order due to the death or hospitalization of the individual for whom, or for whose benefit, the arrangement was initially made or if the circumstances involve an immediate family member.

The right to cancel a consumer agreement

The Act provides consumers with the right to cancel a consumer agreement within a specified timeframe.

The consumer retains the right to terminate the agreement at the conclusion of its fixed term without incurring any penalty or charges.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that even upon cancellation, the consumer remains responsible for settling any outstanding amounts owed to the supplier as per the terms of the agreement up to the cancellation date.

Additionally, the consumer holds the prerogative to provide the supplier with a written notice of termination at any other time, stipulating a notice period of twenty business days.

Conversely, the supplier is empowered with a corresponding right to terminate the agreement, serving the consumer with a notice of twenty business days in the event of a material failure by the consumer to comply with the terms of the agreement.

The right to noticeable and legible information in plain and understandable language
Consumers are entitled to receive information that is presented in a noticeable, legible, and understandable manner.

This provision prevents suppliers from using complex language or obscure terms that may confuse or mislead consumers.

Consumer’s right to return goods

The Act establishes the right of consumers to return goods that do not meet specified standards or are defective.

This safeguards consumers from substandard products and ensures that they receive value for their purchases.

Consumer’s right to assume supplier is entitled to sell or supply goods or services
Consumers have the right to assume that a supplier is entitled to sell or supply goods and services.

This provision protects consumers from unauthorized transactions and reinforces trust in the marketplace.

Conclusion

The Consumer Protection Act [Chapter 14:14] in Zimbabwe is a robust framework designed to uphold and protect the rights of consumers.

By ensuring access to information, promoting fair contractual agreements, and providing mechanisms for redress, the act contributes to a marketplace that is equitable, transparent, and accountable.

As consumers become more aware of their rights, the Act serves as a crucial tool in fostering a culture of consumer empowerment and protection in Zimbabwe.

Disclaimer:

The information and opinions expressed above are for general information only. They are not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice.

*Kelvin Sabao is a registered Legal Practitioner and he writes in his personal capacity.

He is a co-author of a book entitled ‘The Directors’ Handbook in Zimbabwe’. For more information, you can contact Kelvin via email at: sabaokelvin@gmail.com

First published in Business Times

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