OFA provided comments and recommendations to the Grocery Industry Code of Conduct Steering Committee members regarding the draft Code. OFA fully supports the Code’s key objectives and principles. OFA considers the Code provisions, the dispute resolution framework, and the Grocery Code Adjudicator Office (GCAO) important in creating a fair and prosperous business environment for all parties.
OFA believes that continuing with voluntary Code adoption is only possible if the five largest grocery retailers decide to voluntarily adopt the Code. Should any one of the five largest grocery retailers choose not to adopt the Code, then a government imposed Mandatory Code will be needed.
OFA believes all value chain participants should be eligible to be Code adopters, including producers, wholesalers, retailers of food, flowers, and nursery stock. We recommend that as a Code adopter, each adopter should have access to the Dispute Resolution Process even when their dispute involves an agreement with a non-adopter. Of course, non-adopters would have the option to not participate in the Dispute Resolution Process. However, we recommend the GCAO make public a report of all stage 2 and 3 disputes, and the parties involved regardless of whether they are Code adopters or non-adopters. GCAO reporting of stage 2 and 3 disputes will motivate Code adopters to attempt to address disputes at stage 1 (Resolution between parties with no GCAO involvement).
OFA also recommends expanding access to the Dispute Resolution Process to third parties, industry associations and others representing impacted parties. As currently drafted, it appears only parties to an agreement can raise, discuss, and ideally resolve disputes specific to that agreement through the three stages of the proposed Dispute Resolution Process. However, individual suppliers/retailers may be reluctant to raise their grievance with a business partner fearing reprisal. Industry associations and others representing impacted parties may be better positioned to raise these concerns on behalf of a party or group of impacted parties. In addition, certain practices contrary to the Code Provisions (Trade Rules) have the potential to impact the business competitiveness of third parties. These third parties could play an important role in ensuring adherence to the Code Provision (Trade Rules), if they could access the Dispute Resolution Process.
We also recommend the GCAO investigate any alleged reprisals taken by a party when a dispute is under investigation or following such an investigation. When anti-competitive behaviour is found to exist, we believe the GCAO should be obliged to inform Canada’s Competition Bureau.
OFA believes input from Code adopters and industry associations will be valuable as part of the 18-month review of the Code. In addition, during the review, we recommend the GCAO consider ways in which agreement disputes could be avoided or lessened, such as developing standard contract provisions.
OFA supports measures to improve competitiveness across the agriculture and agri-food sector. Ensuring farmers have access to competitive markets is important to the sustainability of our farm businesses and farm families.