The Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) was a "snare and a delusion", David Sables, CEO of management consultant Sentinel, warned The Grocer in the week after the government finally outlined its plans for an Adjudicator.
By employing smarter admin and blanket terms agreements, "buyers have found the new code can give legitimacy to some of their pressure tactics", said Sables, whose company helps suppliers develop negotiating strategies for their dealings with the big retailers.
"Few smaller suppliers have the stomach or skills to avoid these agreements, while larger suppliers are now threatened in the name of GSCOP," he claimed.
Many suppliers were still too afraid to speak out and were now less likely to because of the added legitimacy created by the inclusion of GSCOP in contracts, he added.
GSCOP came into force in February this year and covers the 10 UK food retailers with turnover of more than £1bn. GSCOP must now be included in all contracts with their primary suppliers.
A leading competition lawyer confirmed this was a real issue for suppliers and suggested retailers were in such a strong position, they were able to turn most things to their advantage. "The retailers certainly have the ingenuity to turn GSCOP round and use it as a negotiating tool," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me that they would look to drive incentives through in negotiations, which would be the price for compliance."
Duncan Swift, head of agrifood for RSM Tenon, said that while he had yet to hear of this happening with GSCOP, it had been a major problem under the 2002 Supermarkets Code of Practice, which GSCOP replaced.
Sables claims were rejected by the BRC, however. "I thought we were past this kind of scaremongering," said food director Andrew Opie. "Retailers have not invested millions in demonstrating their compliance with the GSCOP only to go looking for loopholes.
"If suppliers cannot resolve disputes directly, GSCOP gives them a right to independent arbitration. The fact that this is not being used supports our belief that this is unsubstantiated rumour."
Sables said he did not entirely blame the retailers for their use of aggressive tactics and called on suppliers to get tougher in their negotiating. "You can't blame the supermarkets for asking for money when you repeatedly give them it through naivety," he said.