15 January 2009 | Jake Kanter
Consumers overwhelmingly support the introduction of a regulator to monitor supermarket supplier relationships, according to a survey by the Traidcraft charity.
The poll of 2,124 shoppers, commissioned by the ethical trading group, found 81 per cent think there should be an ombudsman to prevent retailers from cutting supplier prices and extending payment times.
The survey revealed 59 per cent would consider shopping elsewhere if they discovered their supermarket was mistreating suppliers. But 78 per cent were not aware there was no regulator to oversee the supermarkets' relationships with its vendors.
In May last year the Competition Commission unveiled plans to introduce an ombudsman to mediate disputes and investigate retailers' records if suppliers complain about them. The proposal was criticised by the big four supermarkets, who said a third party would be counterproductive and costly (News, 8 May 2008).
Fiona Gooch, senior policy adviser at Traidcraft, said supermarkets ignore the consumer call for an ombudsman "at their peril". She urged shoppers to make their views known to their local retailers and MP.
The National Farmers' Union said it was encouraged that shoppers were concerned about supermarkets "abusing their power". It added: "An ombudsman is in consumers' interest. If retailers fail to sign the voluntary undertakings then government must step in."
In addition, research by the Cardiff Business School has found that an ombudsman would also be in retailers' best interests. Roger Clarke, author of the report, said: "The cost of introducing the grocery ombudsman is likely to be very small compared to the benefits that are likely to follow. A watchdog would not only benefit consumers, but also serve the needs of supermarkets."