NFU pushes forward with Buyers Charter

THE NFU is pushing on with its Buyers’ Charter, which it says represents the best way forward following the Office of Fair Trading’s conclusion that no changes to the Supermarket Code of Practice are needed (News, Aug 5).

The union last week branded the OFT’s report as “well short of the mark” but pointed out that its charter could assist in the structuring of equitable long-term supply chains for all sectors.

Terry Jones, outgoing head of the union’s food chain unit, said the charter, unlike the Code of Practice, had been developed to protect suppliers, rather than focusing on the interests of the consumer.

The charter would also apply to all processors and retailers rather than just the big four supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

Although the charter would be voluntary, Mr Jones said he was confident that retailers and processors would be keen to be associated with a reworked version when it was circulated to them at the end of the year.

“Why would you not want to sign up to a voluntary code that promotes a sustainable business future for you and your suppliers?” he said.

Mr Jones said the OFT report had said suppliers should seek to make better use of the existing code, but to do so they needed to get more of the agreement between them and the retailer on to paper, which could be difficult to achieve.

“Even if a supplier suggests including a point or several points to clarify and strengthen their agreement, the retailer can refuse its inclusion.”

The Country Land & Business Association said it was not against the Buyers’ Charter, but renewed its call for the appointment of an ombudsman to monitor the behaviour of the supermarkets – an idea dismissed by the OFT.

“The Buyers’ Charter is an intelligent idea and we’re not against it, but why should a voluntary code work any better than a statutory code?” said Allan Buckwell, CLA chief economist. 

The British Retail Consortium said it was inclined to support the concept of the charter. “We would support anything that encourages suppliers to use a formal line of complaint,” said Kevin Hawkins, BRC director general, who added that if farmers wanted the OFT to protect their interests, as well as those of consumers, they should lobby the government to expand its remit.

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