Farm leaders want new power for retail adjudicator

Farm leaders want new power for retail adjudicator
5th Dec 2012

 

Farm leaders have welcomed news that a supermarket adjudicator will have the power to fine retailers who treat suppliers unfairly. reports the FWI

 

NFU head of government affairs Nick von Westenholz said the announcement showed that the government was committed to putting in place a workable system too.

 

"We have campaigned long and hard to ensure the adjudicator has the necessary teeth to ensure retailers are complying with the Groceries Code of Practice," he said.

 

Previously, the adjudicator would only have been able to name and shame retailers found to have breached the code of practice, said Mr von Westenholz.

 

Now the adjudicator would be able to punish serious breaches with a serious penalty, he added. "We are delighted the government has listened to us."

 

Despite the code of practice, some farmers continued to suffer from unfair treatment by some retailers, Mr von Westenholz said.

"The news that we are now in sight of having an adjudicator up and running, and with the right powers to do the job, hasn't come a moment too soon.

 

"It will be critical now that we work with the adjudicator, who we hope will be appointed shortly, to ensure the guidance they publishes setting out how they will operate is fit for purpose too."

 

The Country Land and Business Association also welcomed the decision - although CLA president Harry Cotterell sounded a note of caution.

 

"Fines will only be imposed on supermarkets as a 'last resort' and large retailers will be permitted to appeal against fines, which would then lead to protracted legal battles."

 

Nevertheless, giving the adjudicator powers to impose financial penalties on large retailers without having to first get government approval was an extremely welcome move.

 

Mr Cotterell said: "Now it is up to the adjudicator to ensure this works in practice and the supermarkets do not ride roughshod over the new system."

 

NFU Scotland vice-president Allan Bowie agreed that the news represented a significant lobbying victory for stakeholders and campaigners.

 

"While 'naming and shaming' is undoubtedly a useful tool, twinning this with the ability to fine retailers from the outset makes the adjudicator a much more powerful force.

 

"Penalties for supermarkets who take advantage of their market dominance is a critical step as we fight for fairer treatment through the whole supply chain, from farm to fork, for our members."

 

Anti-poverty charity War on Want said the breakthrough had only come through dedicated campaigning by the public and pressure groups.

 

War on Want campaigner Murray Worthy said: "It is a great step towards securing fair treatment for workers around the world who pick, pack and grow our food."

 

But retailers warned that granting the adjudicator power to impose fines on retailers did not suggest the UK was the best place to do business.

 

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "What kind of message does this send about the government's attitude to Britain as a place to do business?

 

"The groceries code covers business-to-business relationships. The Competition Commission has consistently said supermarkets benefit customers.

 

The BRC had long maintained that the power to impose fines is unnecessary and heavy-handed and should be kept in reserve, said Mr Robertson.

 

"The code already has a provision for naming and shaming retailers - that's a significant sanction and a much fairer system that would deliver better deals for suppliers, retailers and consumers."

 

In the two-and-a-half years it had been operating, not one supplier has needed to go to arbitration to resolve a problem with a supermarket.

 

"This flies in the face of common sense and is yet another piece of disproportionate legislation aimed at food retailers," Mr Robertson said.

 

"It's a major let-down and makes it even more important that retailers are given a full right of appeal against being fined or named and shamed."

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