JOHANNESBURG – As millions of pupils returned to school yesterday for the beginning of the 2019 school year, the Competition Commission urged schools to adhere to school uniform guidelines aimed at curbing anti-competitive behaviour.
The anti-competitive watchdog said it had met stakeholders, including private schools, suppliers and governing bodies, and the government and had agreed on the implementation of school uniform guidelines issued by the government.
The guidelines included that school uniform should be as generic as possible such that it is obtainable from as many suppliers as possible.
They also stipulated that exclusivity should be limited to items that schools regard as necessary to obtain from pre-selected suppliers, including badges.
Schools should follow a competitive bidding process when appointing suppliers, and appoint more than one supplier to give parents more options, according to the guidelines.
The guidelines follow the commission's probe on the supply of school uniforms released last year, which established that various schools had made exclusive supply deals with stockists, which were found to be anticompetitive.
St Andrew’s School for Girls, AdvTech, listed Curro Holdings and Inspired Schools, which trade as Reddam House and Redford House, were in the spotlight last year.
The probe was prompted by complaints from parents that their options for purchasing uniforms were limited by schools and that they paid hefty prices for uniforms and other school items. Uniform suppliers had also complained that exclusive contracts between schools and certain suppliers made it impossible for new suppliers to enter the market.
Sipho Ngwema, commission spokesperson, also said in a statement that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), which is aimed at educating and encouraging schools to comply with the guidelines.
“Further, the commission engaged private schools like Curro, Advtech and Reddam House, among others. The private schools’ response and co-operation was phenomenal,” said Ngwena. He said the schools and commission had jointly approached the Competition Tribunal and a hearing was scheduled for February 6.
As part of the MoU which was published in the government gazette last November, the schools and commission agreed to assist and support one another and to inform one another of conduct which would have an anti-competitive outcome and will harm parents.
Late last year the commission and Fedsas established a joint working committee to curb anti-competitive practices with the supply of school uniforms and other items.
Jaco Deacon, Fedsas deputy chief executive, said last year that school governing bodies were allowed to enter into procurement agreements or contracts with service providers or suppliers, but that these agreements were subject to the Competition Act.