Consumer champions toast progress in bread campaign - MERCURY (Early Edition) 02 Dec 2011

NGOS are delighted that the Supreme Court of Appeal had granted them leave to appeal against a ruling that denied them permission for a class action lawsuit against the country's major bread producers. "This is a significant victory in our battle for compensation against Pioneer Foods, Tiger Consumer Brands and Premier Foods, who were found guilty by the Competition Commission of taking part in a cartel that fixed the price of bread," read a joint statement by Black Sash, Cosatu, the National Consumer Forum and the Children's Resources Centre.

The statement was issued after their lawyer told them of the Supreme Court of Appeal's decision. In November last year, Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Francois van Zyl dismissed their application to certify them as the representafives of bread consumers in the province. In May this year they appealed, but were unsuccessful.

"We then petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeal in September," said Black Sash advocacy programme manager Nkosikhulule Nyembezi. In 2007, the Competition Commission found that the bread companies that had colluded in fixing the price of bread had done so for 12 years. Tiger Brands was fined R98 million, Pioneer Foods R195.7m for its. part in the scandal, while Premier Foods was granted leniency for cooperating with the investigation that was sparked after Cape Town shopkeeper Imraahn Mukaddam blew the whistle.

Children's Resources Centre co-ordinator Marcus Solomon said they would consult community organisations and file notice to appeal by January 30. "It was morally abhorrent that these bread producers profited illegally from the sale of a staple food. "Their ongoing collusive activities robbed millions of poor and vulnerable families on a daily basis... they undermined our society's attempts to realise the constitutional right to food and adequate nourishment, especially for children," he said.

Cosatu provincial organiser Mike Louw said: "These families are sometimes spending over half their income on food and often buy two or three loaves a day... to sustain themselves on meagre incomes. The accumulative damage of inflated bread prices is devastating." Nyembezi said: "The fines handed down by the competition authorities do not act as sufficient deterrents to big companies making massive profits. "By acting collectively, we as consumers can hold these companies to account and make them pay for the damage and loss they have caused us."