The harsh economic climate in Zimbabwe has exposed consumers to exploitation from private businesses, services providers and public institutions. One problem facing consumer rights victims is the lack of consumer protection law that provides a way for individuals to fight back against abusive business practices.
Since independence Zimbabwe has been using several fragmented pieces of legislation to try and protect the interests of consumers. Legislation like the Consumer Contract and the use of the Small Claims Court to settle disputes has failed to reign in rogue business operators. Sellers of goods and services have taken advantage of consumers’ lack of information, and bargaining power by either distorting prices or offering sub standard goods and services. The most common kind of abusive business practices happen when consumers are in particularly vulnerable circumstances. Also the influx of cheap and inferior products has seen an increase in the number of retailers failing to offer warranty or refund on purchased defective products.
In an effort to address violations of consumer rights, the government recently launched the Consumer Protection Bill, which will see a nationwide consultation process spearheaded by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe to seek input on the bill from relevant stakeholders. Consumers have a big stake in the consultation process, as their participation will help in the crafting of the new law, which will hold sellers of goods and services accountable when they seek to make a profit through unfair conduct. Once enacted the bill will see the formation of the Consumer Protection Commission, which will be in charge of co-coordinating and networking consumer activities and liaising with consumer organizations in order to promote fair business practices and protect consumers.