Since the publication of the Consumer Goods and Services Sector Code of Conduct in 2014, many business owners have questions pertaining to registration with the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) and the application of the CGSO Code of Conduct to their business. This article answers some of the most frequently asked questions by business owners.
The draft Consumer Goods and Services Industry Code of Conduct was published for public comment on 3 October 2014, whereafter the Code of Conduct, including the CGSO was gazetted on 30 March 2015. The Code of Conduct and the CGSO are intended to compliment consumers‘ existing group of rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 68 of 2008 (CPA).
What types of entities falls within the Consumer Goods and Services Industry?
The Code of Conduct applies to all industry participants, including but not limited to: retailers; suppliers; wholesalers; distributors; manufacturers; producers; importers; intermediaries; logistic and supply chain agents. These include participants in the industry who produce/supply and/or provide services relating to but not limited to the following products (including the packaging of these goods): food; tobacco and beverages; pet goods and pet products; electrical appliances; general merchandise which include tools; DIY; sport goods; home-care products; furniture; textiles; building material; hardware supplies; jewellery; cosmetics; toiletries and fragrances; LP Gas; clothing and footwear apparel as well as toys and stationery.
What types of entities are excluded from the Consumer Goods and Services Industry?
The Code of Conduct excludes motor vehicles; banking and insurance; credit; travel club; education; competition law issues; broadcasting; debt counselling; debt collection; electricity; petroleum; estate agents; leasing; telecommunications services covered in Section 1 of the Telecommunications Act 1996 (Act No.103 of 1996); and complaints against the State.
Must business owners register their business with the CGSO?
It is mandatory for all participants as listed above as falling within the Consumer Goods and Services Industry to register with the CSGO in accordance with the procedures provided on the CGSO website, and contribute towards the funding of the CGSO through a joining fee and levies if they continue operating within this industry.
What does the CGSO expect of a business owner?
- Establish an effective internal complaints-handling process that is accessible and understandable by all consumers, as well as a monitoring procedure to ensure the complaints received are dealt with efficiently.
- Prominently display on all trading premises and the participants’ website, the CGSO detail including its contact details. They must also display a notice stating that this business is bound by the stipulations of the Code of Conduct.
- Ensure a copy of the Code of Conduct is made available to any consumer upon request, or consumers can be directed as to the procedure applicable to obtain a copy of the Code of Conduct from the participants’ responsible party handling its internal complaints procedures.
- Ensure that the relevant staff and agents in the business have adequate knowledge of the Consumer Protection Act and its regulations, including the Code of Conduct and the business’ internal complaints handling procedures.
- Ensure that proper records pertaining to all complaints (verbal and in writing) received are kept, and that these records reflects the nature of the complaint, business unit, type and frequency of complaint. The records should also include the details regarding the remedies offered to the consumer in an attempt to settle the matter, and if not settled, proof of assistance provided to the consumer by the business in referring the matter to the CGSO.
When can consumers approach the CGSO?
A consumer may approach the CGSO for assistance once he/she has afforded the business the opportunity to investigate the alleged complaint and address the matter within fifteen business days. It is because of the aforesaid that a business must ensure that its internal complaints handling procedure is up to date and effectively managed.
What can the CGSO do?
The CGSO is entitled to:
- Investigate and evaluate alleged contraventions that fall within the Code of Conduct, upon receipt of a compliant.
- Facilitate settlement between the complainant and respondent and making recommendations on how the dispute should be settled between the parties.
- At the request and at the cost of the parties to a dispute, submit the order to the Tribunal or High Court to be made a consent order.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charl Fourie is a SEESA Consumer Protection & POPI Legal Advisor at our Port Elizabeth office and has been with SEESA since 2008. Prior to his employment at SEESA he worked as a Civil Attorney for 4 years.