Supermarkets urged to sign up to ombudsman

Farming leaders are calling on the supermarkets to sign up to an independent ombudsman “while they still have the chance”. Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union, spoke out at the start of the last ever Royal Show today, and as the opportunity for supermarkets to give formal undertakings to the Competition Commission draws to a close.

Having recommended a tightening of the supermarkets’ code of practice and the establishment of an ombudsman in April 2008, the Commission has been consulting on retailer undertakings in relation to setting up the ombudsman.

Kendall said: “What I’m saying to the supermarkets is very simple: You’re doing some great work on behalf of British agriculture and the consumer – go the next step and say yes to an independent ombudsman to monitor your compliance with the revised code of practice.

“And remember, this isn't just coming from suppliers – an overwhelming majority of consumers are also saying they’re concerned about retailer treatment of small businesses.

“I’d like to see Hilary Benn backing the Competition Commission’s findings too. If the ombudsman issue goes to Peter Mandelson’s department to decide, we need to know that Defra is in there, supporting the suppliers whose products are on the supermarket shelves.

“Last year, I called on the government to redress the balance and focus on the importance of productive agriculture. This is just another example of the shift in Defra’s commitment to farming that’s needed.

“Let’s be clear. Voluntary codes and charters are all well and good, but when it comes to how big retailers deal with their small suppliers, they simply haven't done the job. And we’ve only got to look at what's happened in the financial sector to see how leaving big players unregulated can backfire, to all our costs. We can’t risk that with our food supplies,” added Kendall.