Renewed calls for supermarkets to sign Grocery Code of Conduct
A Federal Senate report issued last week has renewed calls for Woolworths and Coles to sign immediately onto the Grocery Code of Conduct, rather than continuing to defer its comment.
The Senate report recommended that the Code, which is to be regulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), remain voluntary to join.
There have been calls for an ombudsman independent of the ACCC to be appointed so dispute resolution can be carried out in a time and cost efficient manner.
Aldi is currently the only major supermarket signed onto the Grocery Code of Conduct with Metcash (owner of IGA) testing the waters over the next 12 months. Ironically, despite Coles being a driving force behind the development of the Code, neither Coles not its competitor Woolworths have actively signed it.
Coles says it will sign the Code once it has been ratified by the Federal Parliament. Woolworths says it will be reviewing whether it will join after taking the Senate’s report into consideration.
As currently stands the Code is voluntary to join and a supermarket can elect to sever its commitment to the Code at any time. The Code had promised to offer suppliers to supermarkets an avenue to refer disputes for mediation through the ACCC.
A group of four National Party senators – Matthew Canavan (QLD), Bridget McKenzie (VIC), Barry O’Sullivan (QLD) and John Williams (NSW) – were particularly vocal about the Senate report when it was handed down.
“We believe the appointment of an ombudsman to oversee the Code would provide an effective and proven mechanism for low-cost, timely resolution of disputes under the Code,” National Senator Matthew Canavan said.
The Nationals claim that they have been told by suppliers that under the Code, the suppliers lack sufficient access to retailer documents that could support any case they have against them. This group of four Senators also say that the costs of self-enforcement are a deterrent to suppliers raising issues. These Senators are pushing for the introduction of an office to be known as the “Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman”.
Further Senate review of the Grocery Code of Conduct is expected every three years from now.