The Woolworths independent arbiter has written to the supermarket’s supplier base to urging them to come to her directly and confidentiality for assistance under an expansion of the role.
Helen McKenzie has told suppliers that, since her role as began in 2020, she has received very few complaints from suppliers, suggesting that there was a perception she may not be genuinely independent.
Ms McKenzie, whose task is to resolve disputes and complaints with food and grocery suppliers, also said that there had been feedback the requirement in the Food and Grocery Code of conduct for supplier complaints to be made in writing may be deterring suppliers from seeking her assistance.
“Although, the code required Woolworths to appoint and resource the Code Arbiter, I operate independently of Woolworths – I am not employed by Woolworths, I do not report to Woolworths and I am not accountable to anyone in Woolworths in relation to the exercise of my powers under the code,” she said in her letter to suppliers.
“I am required by the code to keep confidential any information provided to me by a supplier and I will always do so, unless the supplier consents to its disclosure for the purpose of resolving a dispute. It is an express requirement of the code that Woolworths not unduly influence or attempt to unduly influence the code arbiter in the performance of the Code Arbiter‘s functions.
“I have had Woolworths‘ full support from the outset, and at no time since my appointment has it interfered, or attempted to interfere or influence the exercise of my responsibilities as code arbiter,” Ms McKenzie wrote.
The Food and Grocery Code was launched in 2015 and was reviewed last year. It aims to help combat improper and harmful behaviour by the supermarket giants in their treatment of suppliers, covering issues such as pricing, range reviews where products could be booted from the store and other commercially sensitive negotiations.
Following the review into the code of conduct by Chris Leptos, Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and wholesaler Metcash agreed the terms of the Code Arbiters could be varied so as to allow them to hear informal complaints from suppliers and report back concerns on a de-identified basis.
“Recently my role has been expanded beyond the formal requirements of the code and I am now able to receive and respond to informal complaints or requests for assistance from suppliers in relation to code matters,” Ms McKenzie said.
The suppliers letter sent by Ms McKenzie comes as unprecedented levels of food and grocery suppliers are begging the supermarket giants for price increases, which is in turn feeding soaring food inflation at the checkout.
The pricing pressure, fuelled by inflation, could cause some friction between suppliers and supermarkets as food and grocery manufacturers need to lift prices to cover their elevated costs while the supermarkets are keen to keep price hikes to a minimum to remain competitive and keep customers happy.
Extracted from The Australian