Farmers Insist On Protecting Their Supply Agreements To Testify In Supermarket Inquiries

Farmer Dale Williams, a seasoned figure in the agricultural world, has long been privy to the challenges faced by farmers dealing with supermarkets. However, he’s often kept mum about the darker side of these dealings, fearing repercussions from the big buyers.

“There’s always this looming fear that if you speak out, you might lose out on business,” Mr. Williams shared.

Even after Four Corners recently revealed supermarket tactics that disadvantage shoppers and suppliers, only a few, like Mr. Williams, are brave enough to voice their concerns.

“It’s hard to find solutions if we don’t discuss the problems,” he emphasised.

As a parliamentary committee prepares to address supermarket prices, farmer groups have been urging their members to speak up. Yet many farmers, like Mr. Williams, remain hesitant due to the lack of legal protection for their supply agreements.

“We depend on these supermarkets for our livelihoods, so risking our contracts is a tough call,” he explained.

Despite assurances from major supermarkets about resolving disputes through the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, concerns persist. Thousands of stories from farmers prompted the Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers (QFVG) to launch a campaign highlighting the power imbalances with retailers. However, only a handful were willing when asked to speak out, fearing contract cancellations.

Without such evidence, consumers may never grasp the full extent of the issues within these agreements, some of which, according to QFVG CEO Rachel Chambers, may even have legality concerns.

“This is a golden opportunity to set things right, and growers are aware of that,” Ms. Chambers noted.

Echoing Mr. Williams’ sentiments, she stressed the need for growers to be free to express their concerns without facing consequences.

Supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths, and ALDI have mechanisms in place for suppliers to voice grievances, yet the fear of reprisals persists among growers.

Despite penalties outlined in the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct for terminating contracts due to complaints, proving such retaliation can be challenging, leaving growers vulnerable.

Jolyon Burnett, chair of the National Farmers’ Federation horticulture council, emphasised that farmers’ reluctance to speak out isn’t a sign of a functional system but rather a genuine fear for their livelihoods.

Moreover, consumers are also affected, often paying more or being misled about the true cost of products.

In light of a Treasury report recommending improvements to the dispute resolution framework, there’s hope for change. These recommendations include empowering code arbiters to mediate and allowing suppliers to seek information without formal complaints, offering a glimmer of hope for a fairer system for both growers and consumers alike.

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