UK grocery market adjudicator to address IFA meeting

The UK’s groceries code adjudicator, who has the power to investigate retailers for breaches of the country’s Gorcery Code of Practice, will address a meeting of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) today, Tuesday, November 5.

Christine Tacon will speak at the IFA’s ‘Getting Fairness for Farmers in the Food Chain’ conference in Dublin. The IFA is arguing that a similar role is necessary to oversee the food supply chain here in Ireland.

Tacon spoke on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1 today, where she outlined the remit of her role as adjudicator.

She highlighted that the job pertains to retailers and how they conduct their businesses in relation to suppliers and the UK’s grocery code.

“It’s a job where I have statutory powers to investigate breaches of a legally binding code, as to how regulated retailers treat direct suppliers,” Tacon explained.

These regulated retailers refer to major grocery chains. There are 13 such registered retailers in the UK at the moment.

She went on to outline: “I also have the power to arbitrate, [and] investigation power. If I find a retailer in breach of the code, I have the power to make binding recommendations, or to fine 1% of turnover, which, in the case of Tesco, would be £500 million [€579 million].

“So my statutory powers are great, but I use those powers to ensure that the retailers stick by the code of practice,” she highlighted.

In Tacon’s six-and-half years in the role, she has carried out two investigations. One was into Tesco, in 2015, where she found it in breach of the code for delaying payments. The second investigation was into a food retail and wholesale co-operative, which was found to have breached the code for varying agreements without notice and delisting without reasonable notice.

In relation to farmers and primary producers, Tacon stressed that the remit of her role pertains only to the relationship between retailers and their direct suppliers, so that primary producers do not directly benefit, unless it was a “pretty big producer organisation, or a very large organisation that was a direct supplier”.

She also highlighted that her role did not cover price, but could cover issues in relations to contracts, such as payments failing to be met on time, or contracts being varied unilaterally by the retailer.

Tacon said that direct suppliers who she has spoken with in her role, including farmers who supply direct to retailers, have all agreed that there has been “substantial change” in relations between retailers and suppliers during her tenure.

In terms of farmers who do not directly supply to retailers, she observed: “There will probably be some flowback by a ‘middle person’ being more fairly treated, that they’re suppliers are better treated.”

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