Supermarket chiefs have urged farmers and growers to make an official complaint if they feel they are being intimidated by retailers.
Waitrose managing director Steven Esom and Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King spoke out at the NFU Annual Conference on 26-27 February.
The move follows an appeal by the Competition Commission for more growers to supply information for its study on supplier relationships within the grocery market. Chairman Peter Freeman admitted it had not received as much information as it had hoped for about “unfair treatment of suppliers” and called for further input (Grower, 1 February).
Esom told the conference he believes many primary producers face “a climate of fear, where honesty and fairness are poorly evident”. He added he was “shocked” that only seven farmers had made formal submissions to the Competition Commission, and that a survey had revealed that 70 per cent of farmers would not sign a supermarket contract if offered one.
Esom said he wants “suppliers to work in partnership with retailers, rather than for them”,
and called for “fair trade for British farmers”.
He added that he was determined to deal directly with suppliers at a time when products are frequently bought anonymously. He insisted farmers deserve “fair prices and respect”.
King also called on growers to give evidence to the commission, but denied that a “malign force” was operating in the market. He insisted Sainsbury’s was committed to understanding the needs of Britain’s farmers and growers.
NFU president Peter Kendall added his voice to the debate in his first NFU conference speech (featured in his opinion piece in Grower, 1 March). He challenged supermarkets to honour their promises about corporate responsibility and fair prices for growers.
Kendall questioned the sincerity of some of the promises, suggesting they may be PR-driven. “I’ve been hearing the promises but so far I am seeing no delivery,” he remarked.
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