New consumer ombudsman launched

CGS ombudThe Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) recently launched the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO), ahead of World Consumer Rights day on 15 March.

The Consumer Goods Council represents 11 000 companies in the retail, wholesale and manufacturing of consumer goods. Large companies in these sectors were involved in a working group responsible for creating the code of conduct that will inform the role of the Ombud. These include furniture giants such as Ellerines and the JD Group, large food retailers such as PicknPay, Spar, Checkers and Massmart as well as manufacturers such a Tiger Brands, Unilever and Nestle.

In what is starting to become a trend across all industries, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud will act as a buffer between the consumer and the National Consumer Commission which, by its own admission, has been overwhelmed by the number of complaints it receives.

“Consumers would first come to the Ombud if they have an issue. This will allow the NCC to focus on industries that do not have Ombuds in place or target major industry issues,” explains Patricia Pillay of the South African Retail Council.

Pillay says once the Ombud is accredited, companies that do not form part of the Consumer Goods Council will still be required to adhere to the industry’s code of conduct and can be brought before the Ombud.

Like the National Consumer Commission, the Ombud’s powers will be limited in so far as it may rule that a product is replaced, but cannot go as far as awarding damages – this can only be done in a civil court.

According to the Consumer Goods Council, the Ombud call centre has been running successfully for the past year and has shown outstanding resolution statistics to date. The CGSO is now being officially launched to introduce and outline its processes to consumers.

The CGCSA established the CGSO to provide guidelines for the consumer goods and services industry on the minimum standards of conduct expected when engaging with consumers and to assist in resolving disputes. The Ombud will deal with consumer complaints against suppliers within the consumer goods and services industry, including retail, manufacturing, and wholesale sectors. The Ombud is set up in line with the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008, which came into full effect on 1 April 2011 and is fully supported by the CGCSA and its members.

“The purpose of the code is to raise the standard of conduct in the Consumer Goods and Services industry, without endangering the vitality and growth of business.  The code further offers guidance to smaller businesses in terms of putting best practices in place that will benefit the consumer,” says Gwarega Mangozhe, CEO of the CGCSA. He says that the aim of the CGSO is to provide consumers with an effective platform to express their grievances so that a resolution is reached. “Our aim is to provide consumers with satisfactory results so that they do not need to further approach the National Consumer Commission,” says Mangozhe.

COMPLAINTS PROCESS FOR THE CONSUMER GOODS AND SERVICES INDUSTRY

For effective results, the consumers should follow this complaints process:

Stage 1: Laying a complaint at the Call Centre 0860 000 272

A complainant who is dissatisfied with goods or a service that he or she received from a supplier must first refer the matter to the supplier, as soon as practically possible.

Stage 2: Referral to the office of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO)

A complainant who referred a complaint to the supplier concerned, and who is dissatisfied with the manner in which the supplier is dealing with it, or how it has been dealt with, may refer the complaint to the CGSO.

Stage 3: Intervention and complaint resolution by the supplier

If a complaint is referred to a supplier by the CGSO the supplier shall:

  • Contact the complainant to clarify the issue;
  • If able to resolve the complaint, provide the CGSO proof that the complaint has been settled;
  • Undertake any investigation that is necessary;
  • If the supplier cannot resolve the complaint, provide the CGSO with a report outlining the investigation that it undertook and reasons the matter was not resolved;
  • If the CGSO is of the view that the supplier has provided sufficient assistance to the complainant or provided an acceptable explanation for its conduct, the CGSO may inform the complainant of this fact and indicate that the file will be closed unless the complainant challenges the view or provides new information within 10 working days.
  • During the time set, the CGSO may facilitate a settlement between the supplier and the complainant if the CGSO considers that it would be appropriate and helpful to do so.

Stage 4: Investigation and complaint resolution by CGSO

The CGSO may enter into a full investigation if it decides that it requires this for the purpose of arriving at a resolution of a matter.

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