The Groceries Code Action Network (GCAN), a coalition of NGOs, unions and food groups welcomes the launch of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s (GCA) role and remit. The announcement of the review comes three years after the post was established to regulate fair treatment of suppliers by retailers on consumers’ behalf and GCAN wants to see more power to tackle abuses throughout the supply chain.  

All 23 member organisations of the GCAN, including The Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft, the Food Ethics Council, National Farmers Union and Tenant Farmers Association, applaud current Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s work to encourage and enforce fair dealing. In January this year, her first investigation found Tesco had breached the code by delaying millions of pounds worth of payments to suppliers.

Whilst the GCA’s annual survey, published in June, has since seen an improvement in supermarkets’ behaviour toward the firms supplying them, unfair trading practicesremain a real issue and half of respondents say they are still too scared to report breaches for fear of losing business. 

To address this, the GCAN believes the watchdog’s remit should be extended to give Tacon the power to support better trading practices further along food supply chains. The group is concerned that if not, issues experienced by direct suppliers, such as missed payments or unexpected costs, are just being passed on and put others at risk of losing, or going out of business.

Michael Gidney, CEO of The Fairtrade Foundation, said:

“The GCA has already done important work to improve the grocery sector for consumers by clamping down on unfair dealing and encouraging the UK’s top supermarkets to improve relations with the firms who supply them. However, the Fairtrade Foundation is concerned that farmers on the ground are still bearing the major brunt of unfair trading, particularly those in developing countries, where the GCA currently has no authority to intervene.

“We hope this review will be an opportunity to extend the GCA’s powers, to ensure fair trading practices, such as paying suppliers on time and in full, are supported at every level of the supply chain.”

Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council, said:

“The GCA has played a key role over the past three years in preventing the acceleration of unfair trading practices amongst the major UK food retailers.

“The reality is that there is still a long way to go to achieve a food system that is fair for all. A genuinely fair food system means there is a fairshare for all those involved in food supply chains, fair play in how businesses engage with each other, and everyone being given a fair say.

“Unfair trading practices still exist in the food supply chains of major UK food businesses – with both domestic and international suppliers and farmers. We therefore urge the UK Government to further strengthen the scope, reach and power of the GCA.”

Edd Colbert, Campaign and Research Manager for Feedback said:

“Unfair trading practices lead to overproduction due to increased risk for suppliers, ultimately causing good food to go to waste. The GCA has made significant progress in combatting these practices where they occur between retailers and their direct suppliers, but requires greater power to ensure that the impacts of these practices are not passed back up the supply chains, particularly to farmers.”

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, Tenant Farmers Association said:

“The structure of food marketing in the UK has become such that primary producers face an unfair and wholly unbalanced platform upon which to do business with processors and retailers.  The Groceries Code Adjudicator is making its mark in improving this situation but needs deeper powers to consider relationships throughout the supply chain to be truly effective.”

Fiona Gooch, Traidcraft, said:

“Traidcraft welcomes the government’s consultation on extending the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Unexpected costs and excessive risks are passed onto weaker suppliers, UK farmers and exporters overseas. This is unacceptable and undermines the effectiveness of the GCA. It is vital that the GCA continues to change culture and sourcing practices in food supply chains for the good of consumers, and protects suppliers and farmers who indirectly supply UK retailers.”

Elen Jones, National Co-ordinator, Fair Trade Wales said:

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to indicate that we want to take responsibility for our actions within the entire supply chain, and ensure that fairness and sustainability does not stop at our borders.”  

As UK consumers increasingly demand their food to be ethical, sustainable and fairer, the GCAN urges the grocery sector to respond to the government review. This is an opportunity for farmers, suppliers and exporters to give their views anonymously on the GCA, and on how to improve its function to put an end to illegal and unfair trading practices.