“As consumers, we should all contribute to a better world with our spending behaviour reflecting that we care for the well-being of future generations. Aspects such as responsible spending, being activists for sustainable products and packaging as well as recycling, all form part of being accountable consumers”, says NMMU Special assistant to the Vice-Chancellor Laura Best whose doctoral research is pioneering the way.
South Africa has very extensive and innovative consumer protection policy, benefiting consumers and providing them with rights and redress possibilities. This policy does not sufficiently incorporate sustainability concerns, and this forms the foundation of Ms Best’s research.
The title of Ms Best’s thesis for her PhD in Business Management, which was conferred on her on 5 April, is “A framework to incorporate sustainability into South African consumer protection policy”. Her promotor was Prof Miemie Struwig and the co-promotor Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Institutional Support, Dr Sibongile Muthwa.
The research proposes a framework to develop consumer-protection policy that incorporates both the well-being of consumers and sustainability, including environmental sustainability. Suggestions are therefore made on how to change consumer protection in the African context to take sustainability into account.
In Scandinavia and some first world countries sustainability forms an integral part of consumer protection policy, but this is to a far lesser extent true in African countries, Ms Best says. She is an active member of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s International Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy and participates in the Research Partnership Platform.
On an international level the research could therefore also inform international policy debates and policy makers in regional continental bodies such as the African Union.
Furthermore, poverty limits consumer choices, particularly if more sustainably produced and eco-efficient goods come at a higher price, says Ms Best. The basic needs of poor consumers in South Africa, and the impact of poverty on sustainability policy intentions must underpin the proposed framework
In South Africa, the consumer-protection policy is the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry; whilst sustainability is primarily located under the Department of Environmental Affairs. As a result, South African consumer protection policy does not holistically incorporate sustainability.
Consumer policy could play a key role in influencing the choices that consumers make; and, if well-designed and implemented, could direct consumer spending to support sustainability and sustainable consumption.
Through the findings of this research, the business community could begin to consider and gain new insights into ways in which business processes can be re-imagined to identify and incorporate ways in which sustainability in relation to consumer protection can be integrated into business models.
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