Supermarket adjudicator process grinds into gear

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10 June 2011

The first, long awaited steps to putting in place the groceries code adjudicator, formerly known as the supermarket ombudsman, were taken on May 24 with the publication of the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator bill. While the move has been welcomed by many parts of the food supply chain, it still appears unlikely that an appointment will be made before 2013.

The Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCoP) was published in 2010, two years after a Competition Commission enquiry recommended that the Government take action on alleged abuses of power in the relationship between supermarket buyers and producers. The farming industry has long claimed that some major supermarkets act unfairly in their dealings with smaller producers, but fear of being permanently ‘blacklisted’ as a supplier has stopped most from either seeking legal redress or even speaking out publicly.

The Bill lays out the proposed structure, remit and operating practices of the adjudicator, which will oversee the GSCoP. It proposes that the adjudicator will be proactive in its investigations and says one of the fundamental principles of the adjudicator will be its ability to ‘investigate complaints and maintain the confidentiality of the identity of complainants’. Save for ‘limited exceptions’, the Bill will prohibit the adjudicator from disclosing information which might lead to a particular supplier being named as having made a complaint.

All retailers with groceries turnover in excess of £1 billion are now party to the GSCoP and the adjudicator will be funded by these designated retailers.

Business minister Ed Davey has said that the Government’s aim is to introduce the final Bill in the Second Session of Parliament (which does not begin until May 2012), a deadline which might be brought forward if the parliamentary timetable allows. This is thought to be unlikely with a packed schedule for the coalition to deal with in the coming year, and the best estimate for an appointment to the post is still mid 2013.

For further information contact Philip Davey on (0117) 902 2741 or email philip.davey@burges-salmon.com or Laura Claydon on (0117) 939 2273 or email laura.claydon@burges-salmon.com

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