Farmers fears hinder investigation

FARMERS and suppliers may have been intimidated into silence over practices in the supermarket sector, the Competition Commission said yesterday. The CC said its investigation into the grocery sector had not produced as much evidence from suppliers and farmers as might have been expected.

FARMERS and suppliers may have been intimidated into silence over practices in the supermarket sector, the Competition Commission said yesterday.

The CC said its investigation into the grocery sector had not produced as much evidence from suppliers and farmers as might have been expected.

Concerns have been raised with the commission that big retailers are using their size to command a better level of service and trading terms from suppliers than smaller rivals.

However, the CC's “Emerging Thinking” document published yesterday said suppliers were reluctant to give evidence vital to the inquiry.


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The report said: “Many suppliers have been reluctant to provide us with details of specific instances to illustrate the general concerns that have been raised with us due to concerns of possible retaliation by grocery retailers.

“In the absence of more specific examples, we may find it difficult to come to any conclusion.”

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The CC is pledging complete anonymity and confidentiality for suppliers in a bid to encourage them to come forward.

Robin Tapper, NFU senior adviser of food chain relations, said yesterday: “This proves the fact that there is a fear factor existing in the supply chain and suppliers do not want to put their head above the parapet for fear of retribution.”

He added: “The reaffirmation that confidentiality will be maintained will give our members greater encouragement to come forward and I have no doubt they now will.”

However, the County Land & Business Association called on the CC to allow farmers to provide evidence anonymously, not just to remain anonymous in the commission's final report.

Nicola Currie, the CLA's eastern region director, said: “We struggled to get our members to provide evidence because of their fears of the consequences of speaking out. I was present during some of these discussions and the concern was very real indeed.

“We know the CC wants more evidence to be brought forward by primary producers against the supermarkets. It claims to have 'comprehensive procedures' to deal with the 'fear factor' involved in this process but these procedures are patently far from sufficient.

“We urge the commission to consider allowing evidence from farmers to be given anonymously. While we recognise that if the complainant's identity cannot be disclosed this evidence could not be formally used, at the very least, this procedure would allow the commission to hear at first hand the practices the producers have to put up with. This could at least help direct further analysis.”

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