Friday 18 September 2009

Obey the law OK, furniture stores?

Last week I got to the office to find a message waiting for me. The local manager of a South African chain of furniture stores had called and wanted something from me. I won’t say which chain it was so they don’t get embarrassed. OK? His message said that he would be very grateful if I would supply him with “documentary evidence” that the law required his stores to disclose the total amount customers had to pay when they bought things on credit.

This subject is, of course, nothing new. We first wrote about this obligation in Mmegi in October 2007. Nearly 2 years ago we let stores know (the ones that can read) that the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 demand that stores, when they sell on credit, must warn their customers what the total cost is going to be. We urged all stores to do the decent thing and, to their credit, some stores did so. Ellerines, for instance, were on the phone immediately, expressing their concern and assuring us that they would fix it as soon as possible. This they then did and good for them. However, some still haven’t and show no sign of ever wanting to respect the law of the country they inhabit.

It’s fundamentally disrespectful as well as being ever so slightly illegal. As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. When in Botswana, obey Botswana laws, it’s not that difficult is it?

It’s a bit like if I went to live in Saudi Arabia. As someone who likes a glass of wine or two every so often (actually more often than not) I would simply have to live with the Saudi prohibition on alcohol. Likewise if I went to Singapore I’d have to know not to spit in the streets. It’s their law and I should really obey it, whether I like it or not. Of course it might be different if the law in question undermined what you and I would think of a fundamental right, such as happens in vicious little dictatorships like Burma, but basics rules of conduct are things we just have to respect, particularly if we are visitors.

So why do some stores decide that some of our laws aren’t for them when they come here?

Is it perhaps because of ignorance? I don’t think any of the stores that operate in Botswana can claim ignorance. If they’ve read Mmegi over the last 2 years they’ll know. If they’ve opened their email, switched on their fax machines and opened their post they’ll know all about it.

However, let’s be charitable. Please bear with me while I explain it all again, one more time. In fact, let me make it as simple as possible. I’m going to quote the relevant section of the law in full. It’s only about 75 words and it’s written in perfectly clear language. Here goes. This is Section 6 of the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974.
“6. Goods sold on hire-purchase
Where goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment the following details shall be displayed in addition to the prescribed details and in characters of similar size
(a) the amount of any deposit;
(b) the amount of each instalment;
(c) the frequency of instalments;
(d) the total number of instalments; and
(e) the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments.”
Just how difficult is that to understand? Read clause (e) out loud to yourself. Ask yourself if anyone who is qualified to run a furniture store could fail to understand it.

Another (rather playfully named) store has actually recently changed their advertising. Their advertisements used to say how many monthly instalments there would be and how much each one was but now they just say “Available on credit”. Go back and look at the law again and see if that’s good enough. “When goods are offered for sale… by way of credit sale…” the store must disclose items (a) through to (e). It’s not good enough just to say “available on credit”. Our law demands more. It demands details.

Back to the most important question. If the law is so simple to understand, and anyone who can run a furniture store is smart enough to understand it, why do they ignore it?

I think the answer is actually quite simple. They do it because we permit them to. As a nation we still seem to allow people to trample over our laws. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they should at least show us the courtesy of obeying them, do you?

So who can fix it? Well, we can by taking our money to stores that respect us and that respect our laws. However I also think we should demand that the authorities do something about the stores that have decided that they are too good for our laws. But not the usual authorities.

Here’s a free idea. I think Local Authorities should be obliged to check, before they grant or renew a trading licence for a store that the store is completely compliant with ALL the relevant laws. Yes, they can check the usual things about lavatories, hygiene and pest control but let them also demand to see evidence that the store understands and respects consumer protection law. If their advertising is illegal they shouldn’t get their licence. Then if they continue to trade we can throw them in jail to remind them what our laws are for.


This week’s stars
  • Kylie at Woolworths at Kgale Shopping Centre in Gaborone for her friendliness.

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