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Spoiled for choice on Consumerwatch

This week we’ve had the video of the rat happily munching on a salad at a Food Lovers Market in Diepkloof, Shannon McLaughlin of Ubuntu Baba’s blog claiming that Woolworths bought her baby carriers online and then came up their own almost identical version, and then the Mr D Food delivery guy being captured on video behaving appallingly, to put it mildly.

government
Supplied: Wendy Knowler
Listen to the podcast or read the details below: 
An alarming misinterpretation 

But let’s start with a Consumerwatch story we aired almost three months ago.

It was about a Durban North-based security company called Royal Alarms and a clause in its contract which is very consumer unfriendly and not compliant with the Consumer Protection Act.

Dan Dayaram of Woodview signed a three-year monitoring contract with the company on the 29th of September 2014.

And because he didn’t cancel ON that date in 2017 when that three-year period was up, he was locked into another three year contract. Unless he paid a penalty of about R8,000 to get out of it.

Royal Alarms told me that Section 14 of the CPA does not apply to the security industry.

Through a computer quirk, I didn’t see the Govt Gazette exemption they attached, to support that stance. I asked them twice what they based that exemption on, and got no response.

I asked Consumer Goods and Services Ombud Magauta Mphahlele about the exemption and she said, no, the bit about a fixed term contract rolling over on a month to month basis if not cancelled very definitely applied to security companies too.

In other words, all Dan had to do was give a month’s notice to cancel without penalty.

After the show, we got a very angry email from Royal Alarms' legal department, saying I based my information on hearsay, I was completely wrong, incompetent, knew nothing about the CPA, was clearly deceitfully, and failed to tell listeners that the security industry was exempt from the CPA when it came to their contracts.

Darren and I had mocked, ridiculed, and defamed Royal Alarms in a condescending manner without verifying the facts.

“Are they even qualified to be presenters on ECR’s Consumeratch?" they asked.

Such an abuse of power was defamatory and exploitative and wouldn’t be tolerated by Royal Alarms. They demanded that we apologise on air, in writing, and be disciplined by the station.

They also lodged a complaint about the show with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA.

Well, we aren’t going to apologise.

The thing is that exemption from the CPA which the company refers to applies to the SECURITIES services industry. It has nothing remotely to do with the security industry, but the financial industry. Securities are stocks, bonds, and other investments that allow ownership of assets without taking physical possession.

The Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority agrees. “The private security industry is not exempted from the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). What the company in question is doing is wrong and is in total violation of the CPA,” the organisation told me.

We put all that to Royal Alarms and to the BCCSA, and the company has not responded.

Copying again, Woolworths?
Shannon McLaughlin
Supplied: Wendy Knowler

It’s a story that's resonated with consumers all over the country; one of a corporate allegedly stealing the design of a small business.

In a blog which very quickly went viral a few days ago, Shannon McLaughlin, founder of a Cape Town-based company called Ubuntu Baba, accused Woolworths of stealing the design, colours, and name of the baby carrier she’d painstakingly designed, and then undercutting her price by having it made in China from polyester vs her organic hemp.

And then the clincher - they checked if anyone from Woolworths head office had ordered a carrier from Ubuntu Baba, and they hit the jackpot - a Stage 2 carrier - for an older baby - was purchased and delivered to a former Sourcing Administrator at the Woolworths Financial Services Building in Observatory in June 2017, Shannon said, and three months later the company’s product developer bought the Stage 1 carrier.

A Woolies rep met Shannon at her shop yesterday, the company later releasing a statement saying:

“While there are differences in our baby carrier, there are striking similarities which we acknowledge and take responsibility for.”

Notice the word copy is avoided.

“This is not in line with our values and goes against the very clear policy and creative guidelines we have in place for our design process. This lapse in process is being addressed internally. We are intensifying and strengthening the training of our people, our suppliers and partners on our values-based approach to the design and sourcing process.

"We have sincerely apologised to Shannon personally and we would like to offer our heartfelt apologies to our customers who expect more from us.

"We are removing all product from our stores and online. Customers who wish to return their product, may do so for a full refund.

"We remain deeply committed to the development of small businesses in South Africa.”

Later, Woolworths tweeted: “Our baby product developers were not responsible for the carrier orders delivered to our CT and Observatory offices - those were ordered by pregnant employees working in pet foods and financial services respectively.”

So why would a pregnant woman order a carrier designed for an older baby?

Anyway, after that meeting, Shannon said: “I’ve come to realize that I have an opportunity to help make sure that big corporations, like Woolworths, make an honest commitment and ACTIVELY take steps to promote and empower SME’s in South Africa and to keep their promises, do what they say they will do, and be true to themselves, local SME’s and their customers.

"This is what I will be discussing with Woolworths over the upcoming days and I will keep you posted.”

If this had happened 10 to 15 years ago, Shannon wouldn’t have had that opportunity. She doesn’t have the money to fund a legal battle, and yes, she may have got some media coverage, but nothing like the massive and almost instant reach of social media.

It gives us little people the most enormous power to share stories and get justice.

For corporates the lesson is clear - before you put any plan into action, imagine it playing it out on social media for all the world to see. If that makes you cringe, don’t do it.

How much extra are you paying?
order in
Supplied: Wendy Knowler

Quick heads up about ordering food to your home or office via a delivery apps such as Uber, Mr D Food or OrderIn.

The delivery fee may not be the only extra you’re paying - some restaurants inflate their usual menu prices - usually 20 to 30%.

And in many cases you won’t know it unless you do your own research.

Only the OrderIn site lets browsers on its site or app know which restaurants inflate their prices and which don’t.

The words “in-store pricing” appear next to the restaurants which don’t.

The OrderIn app displays 37 restaurants for residents in La Lucia, for example, of which 16 - 43% have inflated their regular restaurant prices.

There is not such disclosure on the UberEats or Mr D Food sites.

In the case of those two, you have to go into their FAQ section or the T's and C's to discover that “some” restaurants have inflated their menu prices.

Mr D Food says this: “All restaurants set their own prices on the Mr D Food app. Whilst we encourage our restaurant partners to keep their prices on the app the same as their in-house menu, some restaurants still insist on increasing their prices for delivery.

‘“We'll keep doing our best to convince them to maintain a level playing field.”

They, and UberEats, should be doing their best to let their customers know, as OrderIn does, which restaurants are increasing their prices for delivery apps, and which are not.

 ALSO: Now for the fun stuff on Consumerwatch 

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In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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