Do you know that you have Rights as a Consumer

On 15 March 1962, Former President John F. Kennedy said;

“Consumers by definition include us all. They are the largest group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet that are the only important group …. whose views are often not heard.”

This is very true of many consumers in Zimbabwe who do not know that they have rights and responsibilities. People need to be reminded that everyone is a consumer right from the President to the people on the market because we are the end users of goods and services.

Like many other countries world wide, Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nations Charter in which Consumer Protection Guidelines are articulated and enshrined. The objectives of these guidelines are in recognition that consumers, especially in developing countries (like Zimbabwe) ‘often face imbalances in economic terms, educational levels and bargaining power……..consumers should have access to non-hazardous products…..’ (UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection Expanded 1999).

The United Nations strongly encourages governments to develop and maintain a strong consumer protection policy as articulated in the Guidelines.

In Zimbabwe, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, registered under the Welfare Organizations Act (Chapter 93) in 1991 has the mandate to protect the rights of consumers and undertake consumer education to ensure that consumers can navigate the market place safely. The CCZ has a Complaints Directorate where issues of unfair business practices, shoddy goods and services can be reported and consumers can be assisted to get a fair deal. The CCZ has an open door policy, where one can come in and get advice, information on their rights and responsibilities and consumers are encouraged to make use of this service.

Basically there are eight consumer rights and five responsibilities which are:

CONSUMER RIGHTS

  • The right to satisfaction of basic needs - To have access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation.
  • The right to safety - To be protected against products, production processes and services which are hazardous to health or life.
  • The right to safety - To be protected against products, production processes and services which are hazardous to health or life.
  • The right to be informed - To be given the facts needed to make an informed choice, and to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising and labeling.
  • The right to choose - To be able to select from a range of products and services, offered at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality.
  • The right to be heard - To have consumer interests represented in the making and execution of government policy, and in the development of products and services.
  • The right to redress - To receive a fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services.
  • The right to consumer education - To acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services, while being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them.
  • The right to a healthy environment - To live and work in an environment which is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations.

CONSUMER RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Action – the responsibility to assert ourselves and act to ensure that we get a fair deal. As long as we remain passive consumers we will continue to be exploited.
  2. Social Concern – the responsibility to be aware of the impact of our consumption on other citizens, especially disadvantaged or powerless groups whether in the local, national or international community.
  3. Critical awareness – the responsibility to be more alert and questioning about the price and quality of goods and services we use.
  4. Solidarity – the responsibility to organize together as consumers to develop the strength and influence to promote and protect our interest.
  5. Environment – the responsibility to understand the environmental consequences of our consumption. We should recognize our individual and social responsibility to conserve national resources and protect the earth for future generations.

Consumerism is a very wide subject and is not an issue of pricing only, as many people might believe. Anything that you have to pay for, from buying a food product, paying for your rubbish to be collected, services offered by airlines, buses and railways to labeling on food products and many others, has a lot to do with consumer rights. On the other hand, consumers should be very aware of their responsibilities, which have a very close relationship with their rights. A good example, and one which is currently most topical, is to do with the environment and the consequences of our consumption. Many people will throw away food, paper and cans out of their car or bus windows and expect Council to clean up their mess. It is a consumer’s responsibility to be critically aware of keeping his\her environment clean to benefit now and future generations.

A clear example can be in observing the Right to a clean environment, Council authorities may provide waste collection services, but consumers are also duty bound not to litter, sort their rubbish and use bins. Another key example is the Right to Safety which demands for product manufacturers to indicate on food containers the make up of the contents and contact details, so that they are reachable in case of adverse reaction of their product on consumers, or if contents have deteriorated. They also have to indicate ‘sell by’ dates which indicate whether a product has expired and has to be removed from the shelf. In turn, consumers have a responsibility to check ‘sell by’ dates and other product details and get receipts for purchases in case there are problems with the product and it has to be returned.

It is, therefore very clear that producers, manufacturers and service providers need to know the consumer rights and responsibilities, so that they operate within the law.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe operates offices in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare. Details can be obtained from the Head Office at the address, telephones, toll free number, email given below;

CCZ Head Office
35 Rhodesville Avenue
Eastlea
Harare
(263) 776-571-196
(263) 772-286-690
(263) 733-307-031
prdept@ccz.org.zw
By Rosemary Siyachitema
For Consumer Council of Zimbabwe