Christine Tacon, Adjudicator

Retailers are wiping the floor in negotiations with suppliers, Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon will warn suppliers at a GCA conference next week.

Tacon said lack of training in the Groceries Supply Code of Practice is allowing buyers to exploit grey areas and get away with rogue behaviour. The results of a major survey by YouGov, on behalf of the GCA, to be presented at her conference in London on Monday, show nearly 70% of suppliers have received no training in the code.

Less than one in 10 (9%) of micro suppliers and less than a quarter of respondents from small suppliers (24%) have received training on the code, while fewer than a third of medium-sized suppliers (32%) and just 39% of large suppliers have been trained.

“As I have met suppliers over the year it has become increasingly clear trade associations have to give a major push to help suppliers become trained in the Code,” Tacon told The Grocer.

“Far too many suppliers and indirect suppliers are still coming to hear me present to learn for the first time about a law that is there to protect them and has been in existence for over five years.”

In contrast, Tacon said all major retailers had drilled their staff in how to operate and exploit the code. “Buyers are very well trained, so for a supplier to challenge a request or requirement as non-code compliant they need to know their rights,” she said.

About 1,000 people responded to the survey, twice as many as last year, with an increase in the confidence suppliers have expressed about the Adjudicator taking action if they report alleged breaches of the code, following the launch of her investigation into Tesco in February.

However, David Sables, CEO of Sentinel Management Consultants, said lack of knowledge among suppliers was a reflection both of continued fear of being delisted if they took action under GSCOP and also lack of faith in the teeth of the Adjudicator.

“As well as the fear of retribution, suppliers see futility in engaging. There is huge cynicism about the collaborative approach of the Adjudicator with retailers, which is effectively collaborating with the perpetrators of the crime. Suppliers have no intention of invoking it and given that, they don’t even bother to read it.”

Sables added that GSCOP contained many “totally ambiguous” wordings, and “way too many weaselly ways for retailers to get round it”.

I’ll make you savvy, says Sables

David Sables is launching a new course on “savvy use” of GSCOP, which teaches suppliers how to make rogue buyers “run a mile”.

Sables said the training was aimed at suppliers, not the “gangs of legal teams” too often a first port of call when negotiations get nasty. “This is about negotiations in real life,” he said. “It recognises there is ambiguity inherent in the code but will show how this can be overcome with someone who is confident in using it. Legal functions have taken ownership when it’s the sales teams that first see the behaviour. Lawyers then discuss pulling the trigger on GSCOP when it’s too late. Things could have been headed off at the pass.”