Suppliers are up in arms ­after Tesco rolled out a ­confidential whistleblower scheme calling on their staff to report any concerns they have over product quality or safety directly to the ­retailer.

The retailer is asking its entire UK supply chain to put up an information poster for the Supplier Protectorline initiative in staff areas in all sites that manufacture product for Tesco.

The poster calls on staff who have any issues or concerns to raise them with their line manager, but tells them if they are still unhappy to call a helpline and ­report directly to Tesco.

Proctectorline was initially developed as an internal mechanism for Tesco staff in its stores and offices to report concerns they had about the business, but following a recent trial with a number of its fresh meat and fish suppliers, Tesco wrote to suppliers last month informing them of its intention for the scheme to cover all UK producers and manufacturers.

In the letter Tesco technical and trading law director Liz Kynoch explained that the reason for the rollout was to ensure product quality and safety and to demonstrate that the retailer is doing all that it can in this area.

"With the continued focus of the media on real and perceived food safety issues we would like to be in a position where we can say to the media that everyone who works in our primary UK and Republic of Ireland-based suppliers have access to Tesco," she said. "I believe that the roll-out of Protectorline is a positive step, which provides an additional level of protection to both our businesses. I very much hope you will support this initiative."

However, one concerned supplier said it represented a lack of trust from Tesco. "It's a moral principle really, that a business relationship should be built on trust," he said. "It also seems unnecessary considered the amount of hoops you have to jump through to become a supplier in the first place. We already have about four or five audits a year."

Another small supplier said he was worried that the scheme was open to misuse and thus could jeopardise vital contracts. "What's to stop a disgruntled employee from using this line or even a rival?" he asked.

One supplier that has been involved in the trial said it had not been a problem, however, claiming that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. "We welcome any honest relationship with our customers. Offering staff a helpline to give a route to call our ­customers would never be an issue for us. It's not something we feel our staff will need to use."

Tesco was unavailable for comment.

Read more
Single-price chains squeeze suppliers as VAT hike looms (13 December 2010)