Renewed calls for the government to give the supermarket watchdog sharp teeth came today (November 19) from anti-poverty agency ActionAid, as the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill enters its second reading in the House of Commons.
It urged the government to provide the Groceries Code Adjudicator with tough fines to penalise supermarkets that treat suppliers unfairly, after what it described as “heavy lobbying” by supermarkets.
Melanie Ward, ActionAid’s head of advocacy, said: “Having got the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill this far, it is time for the government to stand up to the power of supermarkets. Vince Cable [business secretary] must give the supermarket watchdog the teeth to do its job effectively − the power to levy fines from Day One.”
‘Hit big supermarkets where it hurts’
Ward said: “Only with the ability to hit big supermarkets where it hurts – their profit margins – will the watchdog be able to protect vulnerable farmers and producers around the world from being treated unfairly.”
The agency claimed that despite the House of Commons Business Committee recommending the Groceries Code Adjudicator should have the ability to impose financial penalties from day one, “heavy lobbying from the supermarkets” had persuaded the government to leave fines out of the Bill.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson has written to Cable to express concern that the Groceries Code Adjudicator may not match the hopes of the Northern Ireland farming community.
‘Hope and expectations’
“Sadly, it is now clear that the reality of the Groceries Code Adjudicator may not match up to the hopes and expectations of the farming community across Northern Ireland,” she said.
“For far too long now farmers have been facing below production prices for their produce. This situation, if allowed to continue, could spell disaster for the future of farming in Northern Ireland.”
Last month, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) claimed that the threat of referral to the forthcoming Groceries Code Adjudicator had prevented Sainsbury’s food and drink suppliers from having their payment times extended.
The supermarket wrote to its non-food suppliers in September to announce that their standard 30-day payment times would be increasing to 75 days.
FPB’s policy adviser Robert Downs told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Sainsbury knows the Groceries Code Adjudicator is coming in and they’d have a job getting the extension past them for their food suppliers. The adjudicator is being put in place to protect small suppliers against such bullying behaviour.”
A Sainsbury spokesman said the supermarket was proud of the long-term relationships it had with many suppliers. “We support the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and we have pledged to act in good faith to all our suppliers,” he said.