With franchises becoming a common phenomenon worldwide and franchisors, traditionally, benefitting from a strong bargaining position when negotiating franchise agreements, regulation of the industry has become inevitable and has South Africa’s legislature initiated this regulation through the Consumer Protection Act No.68 of 2008 (“CPA”), which was signed into law on 24 April 2011.
The CPA has forcibly changed the way franchises operate, in that franchisees are deemed to be consumers in terms of the CPA and now have a whole variety of consumer rights. The CPA and its detailed regulations, regulate the whole franchising process, which includes the “franchisor-franchisee relationship” and more importantly, the franchise agreement itself, which must contain prescribed clauses and information in order to be CPA compliant.
A fundamental change affecting the franchise industry is that every franchise agreement must now contain a cancellation clause, failure of which the agreement may be declared void. In terms of section 7(2) of the CPA, a franschisee may cancel a franchise agreement, without costs or penalty, within 10 business days after signing such agreement. Under this provision, if the franchisee excercises his right to cancel the agreement, the franchisor has no remedy to recover from the franchisee any loss suffered as a result of the cancellation.
In addition to the aforesaid, a franchisor must provide a potential franchisee with a disclosure document, in terms of Regulation 3 of the CPA, at least 14 days before the franchisee signs the franchise agreement. This document is aimed at giving the franchisee all the information required in order to make an informed decision. The document must, as a minimum, contain the following:
- the number of individual outlets franchised by the franchisor;
- the growth of the franchisor’s turover, net profit and the number of individual outlets, if any, franchised by the franchisor for the financial year prior to the date on which the prospective franchisee receives a copy of the disclosure document;
- a statement confirming that there has been no significant or material changes in the company’s or franchisor’s financial position since the date of the last accounting officer, auditor’s certficate or certificate by a similar reviewer of the company or franchisor, that the company or franchisor has reasonable grounds to believe that it will be able to pay its debts as and when they fall due; and
- written projections of potential sales, income, gross or net profits or other financial projections for the franchised business.
Furthermore, the CPA governs the right of a franchisee to select suppliers in terms of section 13 of the CPA. The only platform in which the franchisor can now dictate supply are those goods which are branded or related to the branded products or franchise service.
The CPA also prohibits false or misleading representations concerning the performance, characteristics and benefits of the business, which is regarded as unfair, unreasonable and unjust contract terms. Franchise agreements must also contain provisions that prevent unreasonable fees, prices or other consideration and conduct that is not reasonably necessary for the protection of the legitimate business interests to the franchisor, franchisee or franschise system.
Sections 7 and 51 read together with Regulation 2 of the CPA, very specifically mark the parameters of clauses that must be included, as well as some that may not be included, in a franchise agreement.
Current and future franchise agreements will be largely impacted by the CPA and therefore business owners must acquaint themselves well with the ambit and workings of the CPA before entering into a franchise agreement. If you are a franchisee, it will benefit you greatly to make sure that you understand your rights and that you are not coerced into entering into a franchise agreement.
The practical effects of non-compliance with the CPA when negotiating and concluding franchise agreements have become apparent in rulings and findings by the National Consumer Tribunal, Consumer Court and National Consumer Commission, which do not tolerate any non-compliance with the strict provisions of the CPA. Readers are thus advised to obtain legal counsel before entering into a franchise agreement.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)
- Consumer Protection Act. No 68 of 2008
- Naudé T & Eiselen S, Commentary on the Consumer Protection Act, Juta, 2014