Businesses in Zimbabwe often trample on the rights of consumers. We see signs such as no returns or refunds on a regular basis whenever we go out on our surveys. The government of Zimbabwe has passed a lot of consumer protection laws but these are often not utilised by consumers. This is often because most consumers do not even know their rights or do not know how to seek redress. The government of Zimbabwe recently made passed a new law that is meant to solve some of these problems in the form of SI 124 of 2023.

The Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023 is a new statutory instrument governing consumer rights and business conduct in Zimbabwe. Gazetted on 7 July 2023, the regulations establish important procedures and guidelines surrounding consumer advocacy groups, dispute resolution, penalties for violations, and more.

To help consumers, businesses, and other stakeholders understand this new legislation, we have compiled this list of frequently asked questions. Read on to learn more about the key provisions of the Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023, including:

  • The accreditation of consumer advocacy groups
  • The designation of consumer protection organisations
  • The registration process for consumer protection officers
  • How consumer complaints will be handled
  • The civil penalties for breaching consumer rights
  • Appeal mechanisms against penalties
  • Record-keeping requirements
  • Associated fees and tariffs

This article aims to summarise the main aspects of the regulations in an easy-to-understand question-and-answer format.

What is the new consumer protection law about?

The Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023 is a new statutory instrument that establishes a comprehensive framework for protecting consumers in Zimbabwe. It was published in July 2023. The law provides procedures and guidelines for consumer advocacy groups, organisations, complaint handling, penalties for violations, and more.

What are consumer advocacy groups?

Consumer advocacy groups are organisations that promote and protect consumer rights and interests in Zimbabwe. According to Part II of the Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023, consumer advocacy groups must be accredited by the Consumer Protection Commission in order to operate. An example of a well-known consumer advocacy group in Zimbabwe is the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe

What is the role of accredited consumer advocacy groups?

The key role of consumer advocacy groups is to promote the interests of consumers by carrying out activities such as:
Educating consumers about their rights and responsibilities
Researching issues affecting consumers
Lobbying the government, businesses, and other stakeholders on consumer-related matters
Filing complaints on behalf of consumers
Providing advice and support to consumers regarding disputes
Monitoring business compliance with consumer protection laws
Reporting violations or issues impacting consumers
Representing consumer perspectives in consultations and policymaking
Accredited groups serve as an important voice for consumer rights, empowering and assisting consumers across Zimbabwe.

When does the new consumer law take effect?

The Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023 takes effect from the date of publication in the Government Gazette, which was on 7 July 2023. The provisions outline the roles and processes which will regulate interactions between consumers, businesses, advocacy groups, regulatory bodies, and the courts.

Why was this new consumer protection law necessary?

The law aims to strengthen the rights of consumers and oversight of businesses in Zimbabwe. It provides formal procedures for consumer advocacy groups to be accredited to represent consumer interests. The law also designates consumer protection organisations to handle complaints and settlements impartially. Penalties for unfair trade practices are specified to enforce good business conduct.

What are the key focus areas of the law?

The main focus areas are:
Establishing accreditation and regulation of consumer advocacy groups
Designating impartial consumer protection organisations to resolve disputes
Registering qualified consumer protection officers
Detailing procedures for submitting and investigating consumer complaints
Allowing for civil penalties and fines for breaches of consumer rights
Providing appeal mechanisms against penalties
Requiring record keeping and transparency from organisations

How will the law benefit consumers in Zimbabwe?

Consumers will have formal channels to raise complaints and seek recourse for unfair treatment or defective products. Accredited advocacy groups can represent consumer interests. Dispute resolution through registered consumer protection officers aims to be quicker and less costly than legal proceedings. Deterrent penalties should discourage businesses from anti-consumer practices. Overall, the law gives consumers more rights and avenues for redress.

How are consumer complaints submitted and resolved?

Consumers first try to resolve disputes through mediation. If unresolved, they can submit a complaint to the Commission or a consumer protection organisation. Quick investigations are conducted, with opportunities for both parties to respond. The Commission or organisation can issue compliance notices, consent orders, or refer matters for prosecution or arbitration.

What civil penalty orders can the Consumer Protection Commission issue?

The Commission can issue orders with penalties for contravening the Consumer Protection Act. This includes misleading consumers, unfair trade, non-cooperation with authorities, and more. Penalty orders range from fixed fines to cumulative daily penalties depending on severity. Maximum fines are specified on a standard scale.

What are the fees for accreditation and registration?

Fees are specified in the regulations, including $100 for accrediting advocacy groups, $1000 for designating organisations, $50 for consumer protection officer registration, and a $10 annual renewal fee. Fees can be paid in USD or equivalent Zimbabwe dollars.

The Consumer Protection (General) Regulations, 2023 introduces important changes to safeguard Zimbabwean consumer rights and interests. By clearly defining consumer advocacy groups and their role, instituting fair complaint procedures, requiring good record keeping, and imposing penalties to ensure accountability, this new statutory instrument aims to guarantee responsible business conduct and recourse for consumers.