After months of discussions and lobbying, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee has today explained how the system to protect the interests of supermarket suppliers is to be strengthened.
The role of the adjudicator for the code, which the committee is to introduce, has been clarified with a confirmation that they will only be able to investigate following complaints and not proactively.
Whistleblowers will be offered anonymity and, against the wishes of industry bodies, third party individuals such as ex-employees of retailers and indirect suppliers like farmers will be able to appeal to the adjudicator.
Chair of the BIS Committee Adrian Bailey explained: “Since 2001, a Code of Practice has protected suppliers to the larger supermarkets.
“In 2008, when the Competition Commission recommended a new Groceries Code to improve on the Supermarkets Code of Practice, part of the proposed package included setting up an Adjudicator to referee the code.
“When a voluntary agreement to implement the proposal failed to materialise, the commission requested legislative action.
“The adjudicator will provide protection for suppliers in the form of a cloak of anonymity and will have its own powers to investigate alleged bad practice. We agree that those powers are needed so that suppliers will feel more secure in coming forward.”
Many of the clarifications made by the BIS committee have been welcomed by industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC), particularly the acknowledgement that “substantial investment” has already been made by large retailer in order to comply with the code.
BRC Food Director Andrew Opie has reiterated the group’s belief that the predicted £800,000 cost of the adjudicator is a vast underestimation but is happy to see many of its recommendations being taken on board and looks forward to more co-operation.
”I’m pleased the BIS Committee has recognised supermarkets’ investment in complying with the supplier code and the good job they do for customers,” Opie commented.
“It has responded to our comments to it with a number of recommendations which can help minimise the burden the adjudicator will place on retailers.
“The committee is right to call for a high level of evidence before the adjudicator launches an investigation and to say it should only respond to complaints, not go on fishing trips.
“It should have rejected anonymous and third-party complaints but the recognition of our concerns about the, ‘potentially huge costs to retailers of having to respond to anonymised complaints,’ and the need for strict guidance is welcome.”