School uni­form probe hots up

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER and TASCHICA PILLAY

THE net is closing around sev­eral schools — in­clud­ing some of the coun­try’s top pri­vate ones — and sup­pli­ers ac­cused of in­volve­ment in school uni­form price-fix­ing.

The Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion con­firmed on Fri­day that it had re­ceived nine for­mal com­plaints from par­ents who claim they were forced to buy uni­forms from school shops or se­lected sup­pli­ers.

But the com­mis­sion has ex­tended its probe, launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “all schools and school uni­form sup­pli­ers na­tion­wide”.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is in­com­plete but spokesman Sipho Ng­wema con­firmed the com­mis­sion “has es­tab­lished sev­eral ex­clu­sive sup­ply agree­ments that could be an­ti­com­pet­i­tive”. He said sum­monses had been is­sued and “in­ter­ro­ga­tions” con­ducted with al­leged of­fend­ers.

Pri­vate schools run by Ad­vtech, Curro and Kyalami Schools were among those com­plained about. Schools be­ing in­ves­ti­gated in­clude Gars­fontein High School and Northridge Pri­mary, both in Pre­to­ria; Beaulieu Col­lege in Midrand; Cop­per­leaf Col­lege in Cen­tu­rion; Merid­ian Cosmo City in Jo­han­nes­burg; EP Bau­mann Pri­mary in Jo­han­nes­burg; Red­dam House in Cape Town; and Ama­juba Pri­mary in New­cas­tle.

Ma­jor sup­pli­ers — in­clud­ing McCul­lagh & Both­well, Grit Pro­cure­ment and She Sport & School­wear — are also be­ing probed.

David Walker, owner of McCul­lagh & Both­well, said the uni­form re­tailer had made writ­ten and oral sub­mis­sions to the com­mis­sion.

“I don’t think this in­ves­ti­ga­tion is war­ranted. I be­lieve the in­dus­try in gen­eral is highly com­pet­i­tive. If they try and change it, it will make it less com­pet­i­tive and less ef­fi­cient.”

Anelia du Toit, owner of She Sport and School­wear, said: “We buy our stuff from our sup­pli­ers, we add a per­cent­age on, and that’s it. There is no price-fix­ing or col­lud­ing with schools what­so­ever.”

A Curro spokes­woman said school cloth­ing was ob­tained through Grit Pro­cure­ment, not Curro schools.

“They do en­sure that cloth­ing prices are con­sis­tent, which has re­sulted in fair pric­ing.” Curro had made a de­tailed sub­mis­sion to the com­mis­sion, she said.

Ng­wema con­firmed that eight of the nine com­plaints had been made since Jan­uary, weeks af­ter the Sun­day Times re­ported that the com­mis­sion was poised to pun­ish schools, gov­ern­ing bod­ies, prin­ci­pals and man­u­fac­tur­ers in­volved in price-fix­ing and kick­backs.

The uni­form in­dus­try, which caters for 15 mil­lion pupils, is worth an es­ti­mated R10-bil­lion.

“The com­mis­sion is in­ves­ti­gat­ing agree­ments be­tween schools and school uni­form sup­pli­ers that may be harm­ful to com­pe­ti­tion,” Ng­wema said. It was also prob­ing pos­si­ble “ex­ces­sive pric­ing on school uni­forms”.

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