Not all ‘special offers’ are in good faith

In an economy where the cost of living is on the rise, with ever rising prices of goods and services, it is natural for consumers to get excited with sales promotions run by various traders, including supermarkets.

Who does not want to make some savings anyway when an opportunity arises? Certainly not me and you of course, especially given the fact that economists say prices are sticky going downwards.

In recent months, I have noted with keen interest several supermarkets flighting newspaper and radio adverts pronouncing ‘special offer’ prices for assorted merchandise ranging from soap to cooking oil and some fizzy drinks or squashes. This is well and good.

However, as consumers, it is worth noting that there is in place the Consumer Protection Act, passed into law by Parliament back in 2003, which, among others, demands of manufacturers to clearly indicate their names, physical address, ingredients, manufacturing date and the expiry date of a product. The idea is to protect the consumer from using products that are past their shelf life; hence, hazardous to their health.

The Consumer Protection Act was designed to protect the rights of consumers, address the interests and needs of consumers, establish a Consumer Protection Council (which, sadly, is yet to materialise), provide an effective redress mechanism for consumer claims and provide for other matters incidental thereto or connected therewith.

Consumers should know that they have rights. Under the Consumer Protection Act, the rights of consumers include protection of their economic interest, health and safety in the consumption of technology, goods and services; true, sufficient, clear and timely consumer education, including information on technology, goods and services offered.

I felt duty-bound to give the background of the law above after noting some dishonest business trends. They might be ‘isolated” cases, but I feel the traders are putting lives of some consumers at risk.

Personally, I have made it a habit to check expiry dates of any product I pick on shop shelves, especially those on special offer. It might seem a waste of time, but I believe it is a worthwhile exercise to get used to.

Sadly, some of the shops engaging in such malpractices are those always considered well-established and reputable.

Now, this is dishonest business practice by any standard. What happened to loyalty and honesty?

Business should be based on good faith to survive. I wish all businesses adhered to the Lions Code of Ethics which urges members and, I believe, all and sundry “to remember that in building up my business, it is not necessary to tear down another’s; to be loyal to my clients or customers and true to myself.”

I cry for the good old days when the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama), the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) and city councils used to inspect goods in shops and took off shelves those expired or nearing ‘best before’ dates for disposal. This was being done to protect consumers. It also kept consumers and traders alike on their toes.

It would be worthwhile if Cama and other stakeholders revived those inspections to protect consumers from the hazards of eating, drinking or using expired products.

For example, this week some supermarkets were selling at almost half the price a locally-produced popular squash. This saw vendors sweeping clean the product from shelves and reselling the same in produce markets. It has since transpired that the product is either expired or is expiring in one week’s time. Some of the bottles have an expiry date of August 7 2013, others August 16 2013 with few expiring in a month’s time.

Whatever the argument, the bottomline is that the concerned shops did not tell consumers the truth about the state of the products they were ‘clearing’. This is a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

My humble plea to consumers is to be on high alert when scrambling for any ‘special offer’ commodities because, in some cases, the ‘special offers’ are not in good faith. They are a way of disposing off or dumping some expired foodstuffs.

Please do not be a victim of the after-effects of consuming expired goods. Life is precious. We live only once.


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