Supermarkets would be forced to fund a body which would have the power to name and shame and even fine retailers who engage in unfair dealings with suppliers, the Conservatives said today.
An ombudsman, which would help settle disagreements between supermarkets and farmers, was put forward by Tory frontbencher Nick Herbert. Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, he said the body would “curb abuses of power which undermine our farmers”.
Aides confirmed the body would be part of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and would be an “ombudsman with teeth”, able to force supermarkets to abide by the new Grocery Suppliers’ Code of Practice – to be introduced next month. Retailers who refused to comply could be subject to fines. It would publish annual reports and could have the power to name individual cases to the public.
An aide said: “This would not be another quango, it would be paid for, not by the taxpayer but by the supermarkets.The OFT is an independent body, which should stop undue influence on the retailers’ part.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed the move as “very good news”. The union’s head of government affairs, Terry Jones, said: “The idea is to get a fair deal for everyone and, if that means a better price for farmers, then that is money that that can be reinvested in better farming techniques, benefiting consumers.”
He added that, at the moment, supermarkets can force suppliers to bear the brunt of poor sales by imposing retrospective discounts or charges on farmers.
One Chichester farmer, who did not want to be named, said: “At times farmers are put under extreme pressure by the buyers, supermarkets and suppliers. Farmers are afraid of being cut out of the loop if they make a fuss – which is why we need an ombudsman.”
Mr Jones added that the farmers would be guaranteed anonymity if they complained to the ombudsman.