02 December 2016

There's been a lot of gloomy talk in recent months in the food and drink sector about the likely impact of Brexit, future trade deals with the rest of the world and what will happen after Trump moves from his Tower to the Whitehouse. But it's not all bad news. Sometimes us Brits are able to show that we can lead the way in taking an idea and running with it, making it work (mostly) and demonstrating that small but determined steps can result in change. I'm talking here about the Groceries Code and its tenacious adjudicator, Christine Tacon. Yes, there have been complaints that the code and the adjudicator's powers are too limited in scope and reach and that there are imbalances in power between the suppliers and large groceries retailers which make it hard for suppliers to speak up when they encounter poor practices.

But let's look at the positive impact that the code and the adjudicator have had so far. The adjudicator has taken clear steps to hold the likes of Tesco to account for previous bad practices but also, and probably more significantly, she has used the code to drive changes in behaviour which many suppliers report are an improvement on previous practices. Of course the Code is not perfect: it only covers direct suppliers, it only covers the largest 10 grocery retailers and there are still some suppliers who fear to speak out in case doing so damages relationships and/or their business as a whole. But we had to start somewhere. And focussing on driving change within the key players is as good a place as any. Significantly, the government had started to consider widening the remit of the adjudicator until Brexit planning got in the way. And interestingly, the EU is considering adopting a similar regime to protect suppliers across the food chain. So regardless of the outcome of the government's Brexit talks, UK businesses supplying goods into Europe might still benefit from some level of EU protection.

If you would like any further information, please contact our food and farming team.

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