Report supermarket abuse, urges grocery adjudicator

By Christine Tacon

- Last updated on GMT

Christine Tacon: Talk to me about alleged supermarket abuse of power
Christine Tacon: Talk to me about alleged supermarket abuse of power

Related tags Food manufacture Supermarket Gca

In as many weeks, two polls have sent me a strong message that I still have a big job to raise awareness of what I can do for groceries suppliers and build their confidence so that they give me the information I need to act.

Findings of Food Manufacture’sState-of–the-industry survey​ echoed some of the issues identified in the YouGov poll, marking the first year of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA).

YouGov found almost 80% of suppliers had experienced issues covered by the Groceries Supply Code of Practice; Food Manufacture​ heard similar stories. Yet there is still a reluctance to bring that evidence to me and to talk openly and specifically rather than anecdotally of potential breaches.

More than half of direct suppliers told YouGov they were either unsure whether they would raise an issue with the GCA or would not do so. Of those who said that they would not raise an issue, 58% said they feared retribution and 41% did not think the adjudicator would be able to do anything. In this latest Food Manufacture​ survey, 21% agree I am being effective but 40% don’t know.

‘21% agree I am being effective’

Some of these findings don’t surprise me – as a new body the GCA needs to be promoted and understood and I need to demonstrate that my office is having an impact. We have worked hard to raise awareness – last year I travelled 9,900 miles to speak directly to more than 3,000 suppliers. 

I’ll be on the road again this year delivering a blunt warning that if suppliers don’t give me the evidence to work with, it will be very hard for the GCA to make a real difference.

But I am confident that suppliers will increasingly feel that if they raise an issue with me I will use it appropriately and, vitally, that their anonymity will be preserved. As Food Manufacture ​reported, I have already announced significant progress over forensic auditing.

Many suppliers had told me about the burden created by retailers performing such audits, going back six years looking for potential missing payments. I listened and I acted and was delighted that following my encouragement, eight of the 10 retailers covered by the code voluntarily agreed to time limit such audits to two years. I suspect many of Food Manufacture’s​ survey respondents were unaware of this success.

‘A herd of witnesses available’

So, to the survey respondent who said: “Give us a whistle-blower protection scheme and there’ll be a herd of witnesses available”, ​I say: “The GCA is that scheme and I’m ready to hear your evidence.”

Yes, I can understand you fear that if a retailer discovers you have brought an issue to me you might lose the business. But I can assure you that I have a legal duty to protect the anonymity of the supplier if requested to do so. 

Many probably feel what they are experiencing is specific to them but that can be far from the case. If one company has been experiencing an unfair practice it is unlikely to be alone – so I can go to retailers’ code compliance officers and say: “This practice seems to be going on across your business or a particular area of your business” ​and no suppliers are mentioned.

These surveys have set me a challenge. I will be working hard so that 12 months on, Food Manufacture’s​ survey shows a rise in those who agree that I am being effective.

Progress is already happening. In the two weeks since the GCA inaugural conference, suppliers have raised five new issues with the GCA. The retailers know they will be hearing from me.

  • Christine Tacon, the Groceries Code adjudicator, was appointed to the role in January 2013. Visit www.gov.uk/gca​ to read full details of the code and how to raise an issue with the groceries code adjudicator.

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1 comment

The Elephant in the Room

Posted by David Shipman,

Christine Tacon is a very capable and intelligent person, but her comments regarding a reluctance of suppliers to come forward betrays a complete lack of awareness of the realities of dealing with retailers. The Code of Practice is nothing more than the Elephant in the Room. The point about the Elephant being that if you don't acknowledge it, or are told not to acknowledge it, at least for the purposes of that discussion, meeting or deal - then it might as well not exist. Suppliers are not stupid people - they know there is no such thing as anonymity. The retailers are all powerful - they have countless tentacles which spread throughout the labyrinths of Government departments (FSA), Industry bodies and Industry Press - nurturing relationships ensuring they have early warnings, an inside word or best of all for them the last word, on everything. We Suppliers have been here before - don't get us started on food hygiene and food safety. Our food is carried on filthy pallets, in dirty trays and disgusting vehicles. Any attempt to raise an issue or concern is met by the stark choice 'take it or leave it'. My company will be de-listed if I pursue anything - this is how they guarantee silence. So please don't accuse suppliers of not standing up to be counted. We all know that one day, not tomorrow or next week, but one day there will be a price to pay.

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