Zimbabwean consumers are increasingly becoming more proactive in asserting their rights and demanding quality products, Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) director general Eve Gadzikwa has said.
Gadzikwa (EG) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform, In conversation with Trevor, that consumerism in Zimbabwe and Africa in general was growing.
She also spoke about a number of services that SAZ provides and compliance levels. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
TN: We are excited to have an opportunity to speak about the Standards Association of Zimbabwe. I think your organisation has eyes all across the nation in terms of what standards are all about. You have celebrated 63 years of being in business. When you look back, do you think you have been able to achieve the things you had set up to?
EG: Indeed Trevor, I mean SAZ has had a very long history in this country and I am very excited that we are celebrating a committed service to standardisation and I can safely say we have executed our mandate to the best of our ability for what we were established to do.
TN: Tell us in a nutshell, what does SAZ do?
EG: Essentially SAZ is the national standards body of Zimbabwe.
It is the body that is mandated by the government of Zimbabwe to establish standards and also to promote the widespread use of standards and to also educate the public on what is the true value of standards in the economy and how standardisation is linked to business.
In a nutshell as a national standards body, our role is to make sure that everyone in this country including SMEs and large corporates are making use of standards in their day to day operations.
It is not some fluffy thing, you know. Standardisation is the language of business. It allows you to correct some of the production problems that one might have.
It allows you to unlock value and also makes one to be able to export their products because the world out there understands the language of standardisation.
TN: You are saying it is not a fluffy thing, it is being done for the public’s good or society’s good. Could you unpack that for us?
EG: Yes, it is correct to say that we are a public good organisation, we are not a regulator, but we are perceived to be a regulator.
We are a public good organisation, one established to make sure that the relevant standards are made available to our producers and also the facilities that we have are also made available to the various suppliers, producers, SMEs, corporates, state-owned enterprises.
Basically people need to understand that as SAZ, we are there to support business and we are also the eyes of society in terms of ensuring that the consumers have an independent body that confirms or verifies products that are sold on the market.
TN: Let us look at the work that you do when we look at the year 2017. You published 122 standards, certified 18 new products and certified 17 organisations in Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. Are you happy with that amount of work, could you do more and what is stopping you from doing so?
EG: I would say 2017 was indeed a year where we took stock of the work that we were doing within Zimbabwe and one of the things that we realised was that there is much more work that we need to do.
In relation to the size of the market and the potential we believe there is more that the SAZ can do to reach out, especially to the SMEs because I think you are aware that generally SMEs are now driving business today.
So those numbers inasmuch as they may appear to be large, but relative to the size of the market, I still think that there is more that we can do.
TN: So what help do you give SMEs to be better positioned to penetrate the local market and the export market?
EG: So in answering that question I will start with how SAZ is supported to do the work that we do and that is important because for us to be able to do the work that we do, we need support because as I have said before, we are not a regulator, which is to say that we are not for profit making as it were.
The support that we get is from government through the standard development levy and this is to enable us to do the work that we do.
The government supports us with this levy 100% in terms of the capex, but we also receive support for recurrent expenditure mainly to support SMEs and to support the productive sector because as you know Zimbabwe has been for a long time relying on the extractive industry for exports, but now the drive is towards industrialisation.
But there is a gap, which is how do we make sure that our SMEs are part and parcel of the transformation of the economy?
TN: So to be specific, how do you support SMEs, what exactly do you do?
EG: Okay, so one of the products that we have is standardisation. The very essence of SAZ is to establish standards so we do provide, we sell standards to SMEs, the private sector, etc.
We also provide training to the community, we provide testing for instance, if you were producing peanut butter, you would want to know whether it is meeting the requirements of the standard. However, the most important issue is to raise awareness.
It is a way in which we support them as we make them aware that standards do exist, whether or not they use them.
We would like more and more of these SMEs to use them so we raise awareness through trainings, through providing testing facilities in our laboratories and are also making sure that we certify our products so that by the time the product is on the shelf, the SME is able to confirm that their product is fit for purpose, it can be sold, it is safe for consumption on the market.
TN: Let’s move on to your national mandate, which is very heavy lifting stuff. Your mandate is to improve safety, encourage innovation and preserve the environment. Those are three heavy lifting things, do you mind talking to us about those issues?
EG: Absolutely, Let’s talk about safety. The issue around safety is that there are statutory inspections.
In this country there are a number of organisations mainly engineering firms, who are required to be registered with the factories inspectorate of NSSA (the National Social Security Authority) and also the mining sector.
As you know, there are high-risk areas like mines and a lot of things happen in those areas, so, therefore, there is a need for these organisations to be registered with organisations like NSSA, (the Environmental Management Authority) EMA because of the nature of their work.
Therefore, the element of safety is critical to the work of standardisation.
When you provide what we call occupational health and safety benchmarks or standards, which organisations like factories, engineering firms, foundries and mines have to comply with the assistance we give as SAZ.
This is one area where I believe there is a lot of work that we can still do in terms of the safety element because we want to avoid unnecessary deaths that can happen, for instance, in mines.
As you might know, we have got a lot of artisanal miners, who have lost their lives just by the sheer accidents that are happening in those areas.
So one of the things we are doing is talking to our policy makers to make sure that they reference some of these minimum benchmarks or standards at law.
TN: Interesting that you bring up the artisanal miners because it is a big issue particularly in the Midlands and when you see the safety aspect of it and the environmental damage, do you have a role to play in making sure that there is this order within that aspect of our economy?
EG: Well, one of the things that we are doing is that we are making sure that we are talking to the regulators and that we would like them to make use of standards and reference them at law.
In other words we want them to come up with a framework specially for artisanal miners because in the gold mining sector I am sure you can see the growth, but then there is also the element of safety. We need to make sure that our miners are safe.
We have been talking to them trying to convince them to reference the standards at law.
You see when a standard is produced it is voluntary but once it is referenced at law it becomes mandatory.
In other words, that would mean there is an enforcement agent, who is going to come and inspect that these benchmarks are being met.
TN: So the referencing and having it put in law, how many of these standards that you have worked on fall under a regulator and can be policed?
EG: I would say about 20% of our standards are referenced at law and again it is a question of making it known to our regulators because some of them may not be aware of the existence of these standards or international benchmarks. Fortunately in Zimbabwe we do have a number of our regulators, who make use of our standards.
In fact, some even participate in the formulation of those standards because they would like to see us protecting the environment, which we spoke about earlier.
They also want to make sure that we protect human lives and that we do not lose lives under unnecessary circumstances.
TN: Twenty percent is low isn’t it? I mean, should we not be aiming for a number higher than 20%.
EG: Maybe to answer that question I will speak to you a little bit about or rather unpack the World Trade Organisation)(WTO) rule.
The WTO rule says that standards by their very nature are voluntary and that technical regulation is mandatory. So it is sometimes not necessary to enforce everything.
But there is need for referencing at law so what we are promoting in our organisation is self-regulation, making people understand that if you self-regulate, you will stay and grow in business either through local markets or selling in the cities or even exporting out of the continent on a global level.
So self-regulation is the first line of defence as it were and regulation becomes the second because there is also a danger of over-regulating and you would like to make sure that we do not do that to our market because the regulation is only as good as it can be enforced.
I think the challenge for us is to continuously keep talking about it.
It is a journey without a preaching line because we have to continue preaching, talking about standards at every platform that we have to because as you can imagine, it is not only for products, it is also for services as well.
TN: Talk to me about the environmental aspect of these factories releasing these unsafe, hazardous chemicals, fluids and liquids into our rivers and many other things that corporates do which damages the environment. How big is that an issue for you as SAZ and how involved are you to ensure that there is some form of order in our chronic economies as far as that is concerned?
EG: That is an extremely important question because I am sure that we are all aware that the issue of climate change has become a reality and that we cannot ignore it and Zimbabwe is not immune to this problem of climate change.
So the regulators have made it their business to make sure that they up their game in terms of raising the benchmarks in terms of compliance so that you know in terms of sustainability and (sustainable development goals) SDGs, we need to also work towards meeting our obligations as a country.
Zimbabwe is part of the global village and we are also in discussions with the rest of the world in terms of what our obligations are so definitely quite a lot has to be done.
The second part of your question is in relation to what we as SAZ are doing.
We have environmental management standards, which are in some instances referenced at law. As you know we do have EMA and we are part of those people that are talking to the regulators so that we work with them.
We facilitate the work of the regulators. We work very closely with regulators, with the various ministries that are involved and also the agencies, who are also mandated to enforce the law.
TN: I love the talk about self-regulation and the motivation and incentive for corporates and individuals to self-regulate in business because this is good for business and it is also good for society.
However, in an environment where we are right now which for lack of a better word you know people are cutting costs to enhance the bottom line, you see chaos all over the place and so forth, is self-regulation working right now?
EG: Let me talk about leadership, which I believe has got three facets, which are standards, culture and the third component of all of this is making sure that we are convinced that we are doing the right thing.
So when you talk about self-regulation and whether or not it is working, I would say that to some degree it is working because otherwise we would not be in existence as SAZ because what we are doing is called moral suasion.
We are talking to people in convincing them on what they need to do to stay in business.
Sometimes I joke and say that we are a de facto regulator because if you are not implementing standards, then your consumers will shun your products.
They simply will not buy them and we have not gone around with a stick to say use our standards but the consumer has to be educated and made aware of their rights in terms of you know the right to safety — consuming good products, the right to knowledge disclosure, and very often it is mostly about disclosure.
What is on the label is the minimum benchmark.
We also talk about labelling standards, are you disclosing what is in a product for instance, do your consumers know what they are eating.
So self-regulation is still in its infancy but it is growing.
TN: I will push you back there, do the consumers know their rights? Do they look at these labels? And do they take their rights seriously and do they push back as far as when companies are not meeting the kind of expectations they have in terms of the products that they purchase?
EG: Consumerism in Zimbabwe and Africa in general is still growing. Consumerism is basically consumers demanding their rights in saying that I demand a safe, quality product.
Very often it’s about price but you only need to see what happens to a company when you produce a poor quality product, the product is removed from the shelf.
It is not removed by a regulator, it is removed by a consumer who refuses to buy the product again.
We have seen this time and again and very often as an organisation, the consumer will come to us and call us and ask whether a particular product is certified after seeing it on the shelf.
TN: So consumers do actually call you asking these questions?
EG: Absolutely. They call us all the time.
Sometimes they find products, for instance, it can be a beverage with things floating in them etc.
They call us to confirm whether those products are meeting SAZ’s standards of requirements and we can give that assurance.
So, yes it is still in its infancy but it is growing but I think that our work now is to make sure that people recognise a seal of quality when a product is certified that an independent body has actually tested its products.
We have put our neck on the bottom to say that you can consume these products because they are safe.