Comic contracts: the writing's on the wall | by Kate Ferreira

Robert de RooyAgainst the background of an increasingly complex and competitive contract management environment, one innovative local project is looking to simplify contracts: South Africa attorney Robert de Rooy has developed – and since implemented – the world’s first illustrated contracts. These legal documents aren’t just accompanied by or supplemented with illustrations or comics to aid understanding; the comic is the contract.

Robert was a guest speaker at the recent Contract Management Summit hosted by Bespoke in conjunction with the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM). He presented some of the thinking behind these types of contracts to a rapt audience, as well as showcasing a few examples of the contracts he has developed and since seen used in practice. As Robert told Forbes magazine earlier this year, it is an idea that draws from and builds on “the work of preventative law and proactive contracting” pioneered by professors Tom Barton and Helen Haapio.

Case study: Clemengold
The first implementation thereof happened locally too – a real feather in the cap for SA’s contract management and legal fields. “I was very worried that the workers would perceive the contracts as patronising, so it was initially tested with a group of about 50 workers,”

Robert said. This was done in a consultative manner, Robert added, so the workers could get the support and clarity they needed in order to feel confident enough to sign the contract. Both the pickers and human resources staff involved in the process sung its praises, and the project grew from there.

Over two hundred labourers in the fruit-picking industry – working within the Clemengold mandarin supply chain – were then the first group to sign their comic contracts which depict the terms and conditions of their employment in images.

The contracts cover elements like output, working hours, sick leave and even probation periods, providing clear guidance to staff that neatly sidesteps language and literacy barriers. The comic is the full and complete contract, and is signed as such, explained Robert.

Comic Contract
Branching out
Since that initial project, Robert (and design company, Jincom) have developed comic contracts for a dairy business, a hotel chain, rental agreements and even loan agreements.

Broader benefits
Some of the benefits of a graphic approach to contracting are obvious. The utility of these contracts is clear, especially in low skilled jobs where disadvantages like poor literacy rates can be a barrier to understanding. In the first implementation, the comic contract cut down induction time (focused on contract explantion specifically) from around four hours to just 45 minutes. But beyond these, Robert feels there are more complex and social reasons to implement comic contracts. They can, he argues, form part of a corporate’s responsibility to better manage their relationships with their workforce. Furthermore, pictures are more memorable than complex legal language, so workers are empowered, and know their rights and responsibilities.

Award-winning idea
It was this innovative approach to contracts for which Robert landed himself an IACCM Innovation Award, and has seen him become a world leader in the field, presenting the idea at conferences and events around the world – including the Contract Simplification Conference in Switzerland and the IACCM’s Americas Conference.

Kate Ferreira is the Contributing Editor of Bespoke Procurement Bulletin - www.bespoke.co.za

For more about Comic Contracts go to www.creative-contracts.com

Posted on November 16, 2017