Call for ombudsman in grocery 'wild west'


IRELAND NEEDS a retail ombudsman and code of practice because the grocery sector is “bedevilled with intimidation”, Minister of State for Agriculture Trevor Sargent has insisted in the Dáil.

He was responding to warnings by Andrew Doyle (FG, Wicklow) that there is “no sheriff” to monitor retailers, the “wild west” of the food sector.

During agriculture questions Mr Sargent said “suppliers are afraid to say publicly what they will say privately to me for fear of being identified, which is causing a lack of transparency in the system”. He said the sector was bedevilled with intimidation and added that “I use that word explicitly”.

The Minister said retailers deny “hello money” was being requested because it is illegal.

“However, I have heard references to ‘market support money’, ‘advertising money’ and ‘promotional money’.” This he said “is why this code of practice and this retail ombudsman position are urgently required”.

Mr Doyle said fair trade legislation was needed to outlaw practices taking place.

“While everybody else has to show their margins, the retailers do not publish theirs. There is no legislation in place to underpin it. There’s no sheriff. This is the wild west of the sector. It’s worth €11 billion nationally and nobody is policing it.”

Labour agriculture spokesman Seán Sherlock called on the Minister to “grab the bull by the horns, take the initiative and implement legislation. The Government should stop waiting for the EU’s guidance on every matter relating to the agribusiness sector in this economy.” Mr Sargent said he had been “at pains” to stress the urgency of the need for an ombudsman and code. He wanted it “to be legally enforceable and to have teeth”, but he said legislation took longer than having a voluntary code. “We need to do both. We must first send out the signal that this is an urgent matter that cannot wait until a perfect solution is found.” He also pointed out that other EU member states were less reliant on the supermarket as the route to market than in Ireland.

But he said that “until we create healthy alternatives to supermarkets as the route to market, thus ensuring the supermarket is not the only show in town, the multiples will continue to make matters difficult for suppliers”.

Mr Doyle said “there is nothing about competition for producers or transparency in how their prices are set and driven down on a whim”.