Why We Should Be Concerned

EDITORIAL
Over the past month-and-a-half, the response of the business sector towards combating and containing the worst threat to global health has been exemplary.

The business community has made a beeline to State House, provincial Government headquarters or the various health institutions to offer their contribution in kind or in financial terms to the fight.

It is an important acknowledgement that on its own, the Government cannot win the battle against Covid-19, which has claimed four lives so far and infected 56 others.

It is also a significant decision borne out of the realisation that prospects of flourishing are dependent on customers whose well-being is healthy.

The number of returnees being processed weekly demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge confronting the country and stresses the need of a coalition of forces.

There is absolute need for each and every one to put effort if we are to weather the storm and pull through with minimal loss of lives.

Unfortunately, among some of the businesses, the drive appears to be prioritising profit before people.

Last month, businesses and Government met and agreed to keep prices of most basic commodities at their pre-lockdown levels — that is the March 25, 2020 price levels.

The general consensus among consumers is that, in fact, the opposite has happened. Prices have gone up and they appear to still be heading north. That, unfortunately, is the unacceptable face of business in Zimbabwe — exhorting one thing in public, but acting the other.

This development has been followed by a practice, by some sectors, of repackaging commodities — all apparently driven by a desire to fleece consumers by any means necessary.

At the beginning of last week, this paper reported on repackaged, but underweight maize meal that is being sold on the parallel market, with unsuspecting buyers paying almost double the subsidised price.

Two weeks ago, this paper also reported on an established company that was fined for distributing and selling sub-standard personal protective equipment (PPEs) — effectively putting lives at risk.

Consumers buying the products were under the impression that they were getting protection, but paying for a feel-good effect.

It is inconceivable that any ethical company can go into production without first establishing — with the relevant authorities — the minimum required quality controls and standards of products intended for the market.

As if that was not enough, recent laboratory tests of PPEs show that 48 percent of hand sanitisers and face masks, produced locally, failed to meet the mandatory health standards.

An investigation by this paper established, for example, that 24 out of 52 companies whose sanitiser samples were tested, failed to meet the set standards.

Seventeen of the 35 companies producing general face masks were found to be below the mandatory standards.

Statutory Instrument (SI) 92 of 2020 establishes the standards required for the manufacture, sale and disposal of materials and equipment used as protection against Covid-19.

One would have thought that even before SI92 of 2020 was gazetted any company with a long term approach to surviving in business would have checked with the World Health Organisation to ensure compatibility and compliance, not only for the Zimbabwean market, but for the region and the continent.

While the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) and the Consumer Council have launched a campaign to create awareness on the mandatory standards for sanitisers and PPEs, it staggers the imagination that companies could embark on production of items without consulting SAZ, the Scientific Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) or the relevant departments at local universities.

Having a seal of approval of the SAZ, SIRDC or local universities would indicate a manufacturer’s conviction in its product, particularly in an environment where the long-term strategy is eventually for the product to compete with others locally or on the export market.

While there has been a rush to produce PPEs, the failures by companies have the effect of discouraging importers from buying products from Zimbabwe because of doubts over the quality and standards of products.

So the effects of practices by some among the business sector has unfortunately given ammunition to competitors in the region.

The drivers of the “Buy Zimbabwe” campaign will feel betrayed because their approach is to promote a strategy that locates quality at the centre of the country’s manufacturing and export sectors.

The practice of short-changing customers is increasingly becoming common. Regrettably, these “profit-by-any-means-necessary” approaches affect established ethical companies.

In order to protect customers, there is need to identify the companies affected, so that in future consumers can make informed decisions on products manufactured by companies whose sanitisers and PPEs failed the quality tests.

Companies placing profits before people are causing irreparable damage to confidence and trust that consumers are supposed to have in locally-produced goods.

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