If the Adjudicator finds that retailers are breaching the Groceries Code and treating their suppliers unlawfully or unfairly, sanctions – including fines – could be applied.
Jo Swinson said: “The food industry plays an important role in economic growth, and the Groceries Code Adjudicator will help to ensure that the market is operating in a fair and healthy way.
“But where supermarkets are breaking the rules with suppliers and treating them unfairly, the Adjudicator will make sure that they are held to account. We expect fines to be used as a last resort, but the fact that the Adjudicator has the power to impose them will send a strong message to retailers that compliance with the Code is not optional.”
The move has been welcomed by the National Union of Farmers (NFU). NFU head of government affairs, Nick von Westenholz, said: “We know from our members that they continue to suffer from unfair treatment by some retailers – so the news that we are now in sight of having an Adjudicator up and running, and with the right powers to do their job, hasn’t come a moment too soon.”
Alex Jackman, head of policy at The Forum of Private Business (FPB), said: “The government has given thousands of small suppliers an early Christmas present with this announcement. The Adjudicator now has the means and the purpose to do its job properly – and that’s to be the guardian and friend of poorly-treated suppliers.”
However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) argues that this is a piece of legislation too far. Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said: “The Code already has a provision for ‘naming and shaming’ retailers – that’s a significant sanction and a much fairer system which would deliver better for suppliers, retailers and consumers. This flies in the face of common sense and is yet another piece of disproportionate legislation aimed at food retailers.”