Christine Tacon

Suppliers are too worried to give evidence about Tesco to Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon because they fear being dragged into the ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation, a top negotiation expert claimed this week.

Last week, The Grocer exclusively revealed Tacon had invoked her powers to demand suppliers give evidence about alleged breaches by Tesco, after failing to get the voluntary responses she wanted in her investigation.

“I think if it was any retailer other than Tesco people would be falling over themselves to give evidence but I think the SFO investigation into Tesco is putting a different spin on it,” said Sentinel Management CEO David Sables.

“I’m astonished that even though she is in full investigation mode suppliers are still holding back,” said Sables. “She is in a very difficult job but I didn’t realise it was quite this difficult.”

In a letter to suppliers, Tacon is believed to have stressed that it is Tesco under investigation, not them, but Sables added: “Will she be able to offer them an amnesty. I bet she doesn’t even know that.”

Tacon has written to a string of suppliers, from several different categories, demanding they give an official account of the alleged practices by the retailer, in a move which is expected to cause significant delays to the inquiry, which she launched in February. Lawyers have told The Grocer that suppliers who refuse to come forward to give evidence to the adjudicator risk criminal prosecution.

But Sables said: “I guess if I’m a supplier I would be taking legal advice to see if there is anything that we could be giving to her that could be seen as implicating me.”

Ged Futter, a former Asda buying chief turned negotiation trainer, said he believed the fear of becoming involved in the SFO trail “could be a factor.”

But he added: “By far the biggest reason suppliers are holding back is because of fears over their future relationship with Tesco. Over a number of years that could be far more significant than anything the SFO could throw at them.”