Wednesday 3 April 2013

Grocery Code Adjudication - Managing Expectations?

Whilst small and medium-sized suppliers may be encouraged by early signals ref the appointment of the Adjudicator, it should be kept in mind that the ultimate goal is protection of the consumer.

Those that have taken the GSCOP seriously from the beginning accept that retailers (and suppliers) have had three years to establish ‘precedents’ in terms of payment periods (40-90 days), quality specs, delivery conditions and other trading arrangements that now fall within the letter of the Code…. This means that retailers are now compliant, and only proven breaches will cause them problems. Given their £1bn+ scale, the major retailers will be as anxious as suppliers to avoid the distractions of any breaches by rogue buyers at operating level.

Whilst the Adjudicator is now open to receiving feedback from suppliers, any action against a retailer will require the building and winning of a case with all the legal conditions covered off.    In other words, legally watertight evidence will be essential for the success of any resulting action.

According to The Observer, the adjudicator will have two key options available - arbitrating on disputes and investigating complaints made anonymously or by third parties such as the National Farmers Union.
Presumably all such complaints will have to be investigated, aggregated and sufficiently ‘anonymised’ to protect whistle-blowers, in order to prove that a specific retailer has a case to answer on a specific issue.  Hopefully the combination of a ‘quiet word’ and the possibility of adverse publicity will then cause the obvious excesses to be kept in check…

In the meantime, pro-active suppliers need to reassess their working partnerships with the major mults in the light of the GSCOP. Their aim should be to establish an ‘ideal world’ trading relationship, based on  realistic post-financial crisis market conditions, that would allow both parties to function profitably, all things being equal….

This analysis would then form the basis of a robust and negotiated contract,  upon which they are prepared to litigate in the case of any provable breaches, if necessary. The company will then be in a position to clearly establish what are clear breaches of either spirit or letter of the agreement, and ideally will have collected supporting evidence in the process.

It then becomes a decision whether a visit to the Adjudicator or the law courts will be more effective….

In other words, the ball remains firmly in the supplier’s court, where  the primary responsibility lies with NAM and buyer to reach legally ‘bindable’  agreements between committed trading partners, each gaining sufficiently from the relationship that playing fair is more productive than abuse, as always……

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