Sir; In spite of the OFT’s supermarket-friendly conclusions, presented in this month’s report ‘Supermarkets: The code of practice and other competition issues’, campaigners will continue to push for a fair deal for suppliers and for diversity in grocery retailing, using a variety of tools, including the breakingthearmlock.com and tescopoly.org web sites.
The OFT acknowledges that suppliers are afraid to speak out about abusive practices and yet, in spite of this, it sees the absence of complaints as evidence that the voluntary code is working. The report rejects calls for a regulator/ombudsman on the grounds complainants would still have to be identified and that there would therefore be no “obvious benefits over the current code”.
This misses the point. Critics of the status quo are calling for a pro-active regulator rather than a passive one. If suppliers and supermarkets were required to keep records of transactions and if a pro-active regulator made checks at random, suppliers could not easily be victimised for merely allowing the authorities to inspect their books. Under such a system, in which it were an inspectorate’s responsibility, not the suppliers’, to take action against offenders, the big four supermarkets would feel less able to use their buyer power to impose unfair and unsustainable trading conditions on their suppliers.
Democratic societies depend on checks and balances. Who or what provides the counter-balance for the four companies that control suppliers’ access to more than 75% of consumers in the UK? Certainly not the OFT.