The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) has today published draft guidance for consultation on how investigations into suspected breaches of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice will be carried out. South Lakes MP Tim Farron has called on local businesses, producers and farmers to get involved in the consultation and help make the adjudicator stronger.
The Code of Practice was established to ensure supermarkets treat their suppliers lawfully and fairly. Tim helped create the policy and make sure the government enshrined the idea in law.
The new Adjudicator's role is to arbitrate on disputes between retailers and suppliers and carry out investigations into suspected breaches of the Code. The Groceries Code Adjudicator can receive confidential complaints and evidence about how large supermarket retailers are treating their direct suppliers.
The guidance sets out the GCA's criteria for starting an investigation, the procedure for carrying out investigations and its enforcement powers, which include financial penalties. The guidance is proposing that the maximum financial penalty for breaches of the Code is 1% of the retailer's UK turnover.
The guidance is available from the GCA webpage and comments are invited from retailers, suppliers, trade bodies and any other interested parties or individuals. Responses should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The consultation will run from 31 July until 22 October 2013.
Christine Tacon, who was appointed as the Adjudicator in January 2013, said: "Investigations will be important not only to tackle individual breaches of the code but also to send out a clear message to the whole sector when particular behaviour is unacceptable. I can only carry out a small number of investigations so, as set out in the guidance, I will want to choose cases with the maximum impact and importance.
"If I do find a breach of the code then there are a range of actions I can take, which can include financial penalties in the most serious cases."
Tim said: "Working closely with farmers and producers across Cumbria, I have heard many stories of supermarket bullying which has forced farmers to accept unfair prices for their produce. Now farmers will be able to report these tactics to the Adjudicator and supermarkets who continue to behave in this way will be accountable for their actions.
"The new ombudsman will be a real ally for farmers in Cumbria and ensure that they are getting a fairer deal from the major supermarket chains. However it's vitally important that we make sure the adjudicator has real teeth, so please get involved in the consultation and make sure they are as a strong as they can be."