The time has come for an ombudsman

Fiona Gooch Responsible Purchasing Initiative Sir; You lend your support to the Competition Commission's proposal for an independent ombudsman to act as referee between supermarkets and their suppliers, arguing that although this solution may take longer, it is better to get the solution right than to go with a quick fix (Opinion, 23 February, p3). We couldn't agree more. It is absolutely critical that the commission bites the bullet this time and puts an ombudsman in place. We also agree that this should have "effective personnel and effective dispute resolution mechanisms at its heart". A check on retailers' problematic practices will only come about if the new ombudsman is able to penalise breaches effectively. Furthermore, research we have conducted in developing countries found the impact of supermarket malpractice is keenly felt by smallholder suppliers to the UK. For example, in Kenya, retrospective changes to orders can result in lower incomes and longer hours for farmers and workers. To be really effective the ombudsman should be empowered to investigate trading practices throughout the supply chains serving the UK, not just in the relationships between retailers and first-tier suppliers.