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Introduction to the CPA
Today we will begin with an overview of what the Consumer Protection Act means to all of us – as consumers and as business people.
The CPA falls under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry (the "DTI").
It fundamentally transforms the manner in which suppliers and consumers will interact with each other.
Practically – this means that it will change the way we conduct business: how we market our products and services; how we sell and service our products; how we repair them when they have been damaged, how we recondition and rebuild them; how we provide extras for them; how we rent them out for use; how we accept returns and how we negotiate and contract with the consumer to whom we provide all of these things.
We will refer to the Consumer Protection Act as the "CPA" or "the Act".
Why was the CPA created? What is its purpose?
Prior to the CPA, consumer protection was largely unregulated and although consumer protection law is a multifaceted subject, it has always been fragmented. This means that no "one single piece of legislation" encompassed all the provisions relating to consumer protection.
No specific rules of law existed setting out consumers' basic rights to issues like information, disclosure, fairness and transparency.
The legislative framework preceding the CPA did not address challenges such as discriminatory and unfair marketing practices. It also did not address the distribution of low quality and unsafe products nor the limited remedies and redress available to the ordinary consumer.
The government identified these shortcomings and on 29 April 2009 enacted the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008.
The CPA has sweeping implications for business - in every industry and on every level.
The CPA promotes and advances the social and economic welfare of consumers in South Africa and it does so by:
- establishing a legal framework within which a fair, accessible, efficient and sustainable consumer market can flourish;
- reducing any disadvantages in accessing the supply of goods or services by consumers:
- who are low income persons;
- who live in remote, isolated or low density areas;
- who are minors, seniors or vulnerable persons;
- whose ability to read and comprehend any advertisement, agreement, instruction, label, warning, notice or other visual representation is limited by reason of low literacy or any disability.
As can be seen, it aims to protect previously disadvantaged persons and the poor against exploitation and misleading marketing and fraudulent schemes.
The CPA also promotes the establishment of a partnership between government & civil society.
What does the CPA provide for?
The CPA provides for the harmonisation of consumer protection laws and it also gives effect to internationally recognised consumer rights.
It creates a consistent enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements and prohibits unconscionable behaviour by business. It aims to improve transparency in all business procedures, thereby creating responsible business practices.
It also provides consumers with simple mechanisms of redress (meaning – it gives consumers easier access to justice).
Quite simply put: The CPA can be called a "Consumer's Bill of Rights".