Picture: GCIS
Picture: GCIS

The Competition Commission’s probe into the supply of school uniforms has so far established that various schools had made exclusive supply deals with stockists, a practice that is considered uncompetitive.

In the past two years, the commission has been investigating allegations of collusion in the sector, a trend parents felt was driving costs higher. If confirmed, the finding by the commission would affirm parents’ suspicions at a time when many are forking out thousands of rand in uniforms, pushing up the costs of education.

Commission spokesman Sipho Ngwema on Friday said he was confident that the commission was about to conclude and announce the outcome of its investigation into suspected price fixing in the school uniform sector.

The probe was initiated in April 2015 when school governing bodies noticed that stockists were emerging as direct and sole suppliers to schools for uniforms at the beginning of each academic year, allowing them to determine prices and lock other suppliers out. Parents’ representatives and school governing bodies also raised concern saying schools should not make a business out of selling uniforms.

The probe was initiated in April 2015 when school governing bodies noticed that stockists were emerging as direct and sole suppliers to schools for uniforms

Tim Gordon, CEO of the Governing Body Foundation which represents school governing bodies, said parents needed as many uniform items as possible — such as shirts and socks — to remain generic so that they could be purchased from a supplier of their choice. "The challenge comes with unique items like blazers, ties, badges and sporting items. Those are the items where stockists come in. The other thing is uniform, stockists indicate that it is not a very profitable business."

He said they typically made profit twice a year at most and carry large stocks. "Other stockists say thanks but no thanks and many schools have only been able to find one stockist. Small towns cannot support multiple stockists and schools are often stuck with one.

"The commission says this should not be the case and other stockists should be able to get business," he said.

According to Gordon, the foundation is hoping that the commission would understand the complexities involved in uniform supply. "We haven’t spoken to them in recent times. Our first meeting with the commission was in April 2015. But we believe it [the probe] is close to finalisation."

Brian Brink of the Textile Federation said because schools were increasingly purchasing uniforms from stockists and manufacturers, the commission’s probe affects textile manufacturers less than it would have in the past.

magubanek@businesslive.co.za

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