GLA: Groceries adjudicator must take interventionist approach

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

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GLA: Groceries adjudicator must take interventionist approach
The Groceries Code Adjudicator must take an interventionist approach rather than simply reacting to complaints if it is to have any teeth, according to the boss of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

The adjudicator​, which is being set up to resolve disputes between supermarkets and suppliers, would require powers similar to those exercised by the GLA to stop the exploitation of migrant labour if the major supermarkets are to be prevented from abusing their power, said GLA chief executive Ian Livsey,

Livsey, who was speaking at a conference on food justice in London yesterday organised by the Food Ethics Council said: ”I don’t think a scheme will work that looks at complaints. It needs to be an enforcement body that is based on intelligence.”

Livsey noted the criticism meted out to supermarkets by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following the inquiry launched in 2008 into the meat industry had led to recommendations for a “more interventionist approach”.

The EHRC inquiry found that retailers were partly responsible for encouraging labour exploitation in meat supply chain by forcing down prices paid to their suppliers. Following the inquiry the retailers responded by agreeing to work more closely with the GLA to stamp out labour exploitation.

FDF: How will it operate?

FDF chief executive Melanie Leech said the new grocery supply code of practice and adjudicator were necessary to support smaller food and drink manufacturers as well as farmers, but added: “We do have some concerns about how it will operate.”

Both the FDF and National Farmers’ Union were in the process of writing to government ministers to express their reservations, she said. “If you have a code, you have to have a policeman.”

However, the Soil Association’s incoming director Helen Browning said that while she was initially sceptical, she had since been won round.

Given that much of the unfair treatment of suppliers was hidden, she added, the problems of supermarket buyers abusing their power needed to be addressed. “I have been encouraged by how much fuss this has kicked up."

Actively searching out wrong-doing, or simply responding to complaints?

The adjudicator, which will be housed within the Office of Fair Trading but will not be answerable to the OFT’s board, will be tasked with monitoring and enforcing the GSCOP, which has been in place since February 2010.

However, its precise remit is still not clear, ​according to the British Retail Consortium, ​which argues that it will simply increase costs and bureacracy for retailers (who will fund it) without providing any clear consumer benefit.

Speaking to last year about the adjudicator, a spokesman said: “What’s not clear is whether it will be simply responding to complaints or actively searching out for alleged wrong-doing in order to justify its existence.”

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