sean clarke

Christine Tacon said she was in talks with Asda CEO Sean Clarke over ways to end alleged bad behaviour by the retailer to its suppliers

Asda has seen a big increase in alleged breaches of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, according to official figures reported by retailers to the Competition & Markets Authority.

The British Brands Group today published details of the publically recorded summaries of responses retailers made to the CMA over Code compliance.

It reveals the Walmart-owned retailer dealt with 31 alleged breaches of the code in 2016-17, compared with the previous year when it reported “a small number, with seven incidents being raised with its code compliance officers”.

The increase follows a recent announcement by Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon that she was in talks with Asda CEO Sean Clarke over ways to end alleged bad behaviour by the retailer to its suppliers.

The retailer came second from bottom in a June survey for the GCA carried out by YouGov, which found 11% of suppliers saying it rarely complied with the code.

However, despite the jump in incidents at Asda, the BBG reserved its biggest criticism for a raft of other retailers over what it called a “marked trend” towards lack of transparency in reporting the data on compliance.

The report reveals how Asda, Tesco (which revealed 18 alleged breaches of the code) and Waitrose (six alleged breaches) are by far the most transparent in their reporting to the CMA.

Despite topping the GCA’s June supplier poll for best compliance, Aldi is one of those that refuses to supply information on alleged breaches to the competition authorities. The Co-op, Iceland, and Lidl also refused to disclose their figures.

Meanwhile Morrisons simply states that it “worked successfully with suppliers to resolve any GSCOP complaints” and Sainsbury’s report is a “small number” of incidents.

The BBG report today attacked retailers for their lack of transparency.

It said: “A marked difference is appearing between how designated retailers report publicly on their compliance. Asda, Tesco and Waitrose are most forthcoming while Aldi, Iceland, the Co-op and Lidl are at the other end of the spectrum.”

BBG director John Noble said: “I actually think that companies like Asda who have published the number of alleged breaches ought to be applauded. It would be much more helpful to transparency if all retailers were forthcoming in their information about alleged and actual breaches of the code. I think it would also be helpful if the CMA were able to give more guidance on this because at the moment we clearly have retailers with different interpretations.”

Asda said it had carried out a “wide-ranging internal review of our practices in order to establish stronger standards and controls throughout GSCOP processes”.

This included reaffirming the process that must be followed in respect of delisting of products, a revamped training and communications plan, including refreshed online and face-to-face training, and “comprehensive” training on the code for all members of its buying team and a number of finance colleagues.

It said it was in the process of developing new and improved category-specific training.

CEO Sean Clarke, it said, was promoting an “open door policy and encouraging suppliers to provide open and honest feedback where you feel we have not got things right”.

Asda added: “We received 31 alleged breaches of the code during the reporting period. We’re pleased to say that because, in our view, of the effective way that we work with suppliers to deal with their concerns, we closed out the majority of issues to the satisfaction of the relevant suppliers, and there was only one instance of a supplier formally escalating a dispute to Asda’s code compliance officer.”