Ireland should follow UK’s lead on retail regulation, says IFA

Christine Tacon has been appointed as the UK's independent Groceries Code Adjudicator
Christine Tacon has been appointed as the UK's independent Groceries Code Adjudicator

The government is facing increased calls for a statutory Code of Conduct for the grocery sector to be introduced here, following the appointment of Christine Tacon in the UK



25 January 2013

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The appointment in Britain of an adjudicator for the Groceries Code shows how far behind the Irish government is in regulating retailers, according to the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), which has called for "immediate action on this issue from Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton".

The appointment of Christine Tacon in the newly created role as the independent Groceries Code Adjudicator was announced on Monday 21 January by the UK’s Consumer and Competition Minister Jo Swinson.

Irish government facing increased pressure 

The move which will see Tacon regulate interactions between the UK’s ten largest supermarkets with an annual turnover of £1 billion and their direct suppliers, has been described by IFA president John Bryan as "an example that our government could follow".

The British adjudicator will also have the power to launch investigations into suspected breaches of the code, including those arising from confidential complaints from any source.

If Tacon finds evidence of a breach, she will be able to make recommendations against a supermarket, require them to publish details of their breach, or, in the most extreme cases, to impose fines. She will also have the power to arbitrate disputes between large supermarkets and their direct suppliers. 

"This is the kind of legislation and enforcement we need to see taken in this country," said Bryan, who is aggrieved that farmers are still waiting for legislation "to curb the dominant power of the multiples…despite a commitment in the Programme for Government and repeated promises".

IFA still waiting despite ‘repeated promises’

The association says immediate action should be taken, including the introduction of "a statutory Code of Conduct and an independent ombudsman to investigate retailers’ abuses. Such abuses cover not just unfair trading practices, such as ‘hello money’ and other forced contributions, but also labelling designed to mislead consumers," the IFA president added.

Shane Dempsey, head of Consumer Foods at Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII), which originally drafted a statutory Code of Conduct for Ireland in 2008/2009 and has since pushed for its introduction, said it is "very frustrating that this is taking so long to come into place."

Shane Dempsey, head of Consumer Foods, Food and Drink Industry Ireland, says it is "very frustrating" that a statutory code is not yet in place

Shane Dempsey, head of Consumer Foods, Food and Drink Industry Ireland, says it is "very frustrating" that a statutory code is not yet in place

FDII keen to progress legislation

According to Dempsey the code has become entangled in "complex legislation" between the National Consumer Agency (NCA) and the Competition Authority.

"While this has been muddling through the legislative programme, good businesses and good suppliers have gone out of business and a lot of practices are continuing that have damaged Irish businesses," he told ShelfLife

Dempsey said an enabling provision is expected this term which will allow the code to enter into law. 

"There’s a commitment for the legislation that will allow the code to come into existence. The commitment to put that legislation in place is during this term which is [approximately] ten weeks. We want it moved as quickly as possible once that enabling provision is in. A lot of the work has been done through the voluntary code process, a lot of discussion has happened so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be introduced relatively quickly after the enabling provision has been put in place."

"The key aspect about the code is that there’s confidentiality for suppliers and there’s an adjudicator that can enact investigations on both sides," he added. 

Tacon plans to use ‘commercial background’ to best effect

Meanwhile the UK’s Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which will formally create the office of the adjudicator, is currently before Parliament. Christine Tacon will subsequently act as adjudicator-designate until the office of the adjudicator is established by law, when she will formally take up the four year appointment.

Ministers have also agreed that the adjudicator will appear before the BIS Select Committee for a pre-appointment hearing.
Commenting on her appointment, Tacon said: "Coming from a commercial background, I am sure that if we can increase trust between retailers and their direct suppliers, it will lead to greater efficiency and can only have a beneficial impact on the rest of the supply chain."

Tacon is a chartered engineer with 12 years’ experience in sales and marketing of fast moving consumer goods (Mars, Anchor and Vodafone) and ran the Co-operative Group’s farming business, the largest in the UK, for 11 years until 2012. The recently appointed adjudicator was awarded a CBE for services to agriculture in 2004.

Tacon also holds numerous different roles. These include the position of non-executive director of Anglia Farmers and Farmway Ltd, both farm supply businesses, chair of UK Farming plc, an investment business, a member of DEFRA’s Strategic Regulatory Scrutiny Panel, looking at future regulation. She is a governor of Harper Adams University (which specialises in agribusiness) and is on the Business Advisory Board of Living with Environmental Change, a partnership of the Research Councils. Tacon chairs the BBC Rural Affairs Advisory Committee and has joined the UKTI Environment and Water Sector Advisory Group and is also a public member of Network Rail.




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