Protect the consumer

Protect the consumer

TsepisoS. Mothibi

In the past, it was common for one to see the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) seal on almost all the products one bought for consumption or as utilities used as tools or home-wares. This seal has become a rare sight on most products one buys as a consumer in the present times, for most of the products we buy bear some vague sign that does not confirm their level of quality.

And if we are to be frank in our observation, many of the utilities and home products we find on the market do not last due to the simple fact that they are of very poor quality. Instead of questioning this fact, many of us instead resort to meekly admitting that this is the trend of the current times, that the manufacturers want us to go back to the same shop to buy the same product several times while their bank accounts fill up with our hard-earned cash.

That there are questions that can be asked by us as consumers on the quality of the goods we purchase on the market is a subject many would rather ignore, rather than dare to ask for it is in reality one of our basic rights as consumers of these fongkongs. Should we go on consuming junk just because we do not have the means to produce high quality products? What are consumer rights institutions doing to stem the flow of substandard goods in the market place? I pose these questions as a concerned consumer, a student of international economics, and to a large degree concerned African citizen.

Africa is largely made up of consumer economies as writers including Chika Onyeani (author of The Capitalist Nigger) show in their observations. The continent does not produce what it consumes for most of the products consumed on the market come into the economy as imports from other parts of the world. This poses a problem because the standards set in relation to the quality of the goods imported are not those of the consumer but the producer, and the African consumer ends consuming dubious quality goods without question whilst his hard-earned cash reserve ebbs. Chika Onyeani presents the argument that:

The blame game has become a permanent part of our lives to the exclusion of any other solution that could be more viable in solving our problems. It has become the most productive part of our lives, because without it the African cannot really point to much that they are in charge of producing. It is better to blame others than to confront the truth of our being responsible for whatever has happened to us as an African race.

Most of the products manufactured in the world bear the seal “Made in China” and the Chinese are blamed for whatever malfunctions come with the products. But the question one can pose is simple: are the Chinese and other manufactures from outside of the African continent ever presented with a Bill of Standards in relation to the quality of the products they sell to the African market? Research carried so far on the existence of such a document has so far come up with no answer, unless some good Samaritan can present it.

Whether the consumables we buy contain toxic substances or are of substandard quality does not seem to be a concern for most consumer economies, and the customers just buy and utilise without question. But how can they question for they are never made of their rights as consumers of these imported products? Is it rightful, therefore, to blame anyone if a consumer product has negative side effects on the consumer when the authority mandated with the control of the quality of imported goods does not seem to have any bill of standards?

We buy cars, kettles, refrigerators, television sets, sweets, cigarettes, computers and their software, cellular phones and other various products whose standards and terms or instructions of use we know nothing about. In fact, it is not a concern for many how safe the radiation and carbon emission levels of the utilities they use on an everyday basis are, the nutritional information on the consumables is unknown by many due to their ignorance of its significance in terms of health and welfare.

We in short just buy and consume without question, and the only consumer dispute cases we hear about are in First World (Developed) countries. It is true that the producer serves the needs of the consumer, but the consumer should have the clear understanding that it is their demand for the product manufactured that keeps the producer in business. It is a reciprocal process that utilises a symbiosis of parties involved, that is, if the consumer is not happy about a product, they naturally reserve the right to complain about it. The consumer cannot just go on using a product declared unsafe in the developed world because relevant authorities in their developing economy do not perform their rightful duty.

Research carried out on cigarettes as a popular consumer product in Africa will soon reveal the fact that most of the tobacco products we consume on the market are substandard, and that the occurrence of such products on the international markets has been met with litigation cases that resulted in the complainants being awarded huge amounts of money by the relevant courtsas compensation. But many of us go on to smoke harmful tobacco products, without realising that we have the power to take the producers of such products to court if the products they sell are substandard.

Customer care and consumer protection seem just terms used in economic market speak out here in the kingdom for example. The measures set to enforce them need to be upped a few notches to the level where they can be deemed effective tools of market relations. One of us has personally met a few cases where they were maltreated as a customer on several occasions and were rendered helpless because they did not know which authority to approach to present their case of consumer maltreatment.

Buying goods without warranty, buying goods that malfunction after just a few uses, and buying consumable products that are past their date of expiration are some of the common cases a consumer meets on the market when they set out to buy the products sold by the middlemen. It is at the discretion of the seller to replace a malfunctioning good or expired product if a customer presents any claim to such, and there is no visible authority to enforce terms of relation between the consumer and the producer or seller.

I do not think that authority should only be visible to a limited number of citizens if the relations of production on the market are to be maintained to levels that are satisfactory to all parties involved: all should benefit from the chain of production.

In a consumer economy that is structured as the one we have in this country and most of the continent, it would be wise to have the relevant authorities concerned with the rights of the consumer and the producer clearly visible to all citizens, from the illiterate to the literate. The fact of the matter is that, in a consumer economy, all are in essence customers or buyers and consumers of any given product the market imports into the state, the government should therefore take great care in implementing policies that protect the rights of the consumer.

One cannot just be content with receiving substandard goods or services from multi-national companies without making sure that they adhere to the set or required levels of quality. If they are substandard they should be returned to the producer, and he should be presented with the demand for good quality products upon next delivery. The cap-in-hand mentality of the African negotiator should be done away with when it comes to the sale of goods on the market.

After all, it is the poor consumer on the African continent who buys most of the products exported by producer economies, and even better, the African should begin to find ways to produce locally manufactured goods and to provide services concomitant to set local standards. It is usually said that the customer is king. It is time to prove that kingship.

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