“Whistleblowing” could help focus Grocery Commissioner’s work

by | Feb 8, 2024 | News

A new anonymous “whistleblower” tool launched by the Grocery Commissioner is designed to lift the lid on practices and conduct that may be hampering competition in the $25 billion sector.

Grocery Commissioner, Pierre van Heerden, says the tool, which uses the WhistleB system incorporates state-of-the-art data security and privacy, encrypting data and information provided. A similar system has been offered by the Commission since 2018 to report alleged cartel conduct to its competition branch.

Mr van Heerden says this confidential channel enables people to remain anonymous, removing any risk of retaliation, when coming forward to the Commission with information about concerning or inappropriate behaviour.

“We’re aware of situations where players in the grocery sector, such as suppliers, may believe they are being mistreated by a major supermarket, but are concerned about being disadvantaged if they share information with the Commission – they can now do this easily and without fear.

“This is a sector that touches every New Zealander, so it’s crucial that in conjunction with the obligations on the regulated supermarkets, we are aware of and can act on all potential issues for the long-term benefit of Kiwi consumers.

“Every New Zealander has a vital role to play in shaping the future of grocery shopping in New Zealand, and so it’s important that they all feel they can share information with the Commission safely.”

Mr van Heerden says his focus under the Grocery Industry Competition Act is on “improving this sector to deliver sustainable benefits for Kiwi consumers over the long term, by strengthening competition and reducing barriers to entry for new entrants”.

Background

The Anonymous Reporting Tool
The Commission’s Anonymous Reporting Tool uses the WhistleB system provided by NAVEX. It provides a secure channel to be able to report information without disclosing personal information.

  • This allows people access to an easy-to-use tool for submitting a report with confidence of total anonymity, which will then be received by specifically trained Commission staff via a dedicated mailbox.
  • Data is also held securely in cloud-based storage, with the highest levels of protection – data is encrypted, stored, and safeguarded in EU-based data centres.

How to use the tool

It is important that the correct steps are followed when using the tool to ensure that identity is not revealed, and reports can be appropriately handled by the Commission.

When using the tool, we recommend that if you wish to keep your identity confidential, take care around the level of detail you provide so you do not inadvertently disclose your identity by sharing too many details.

The major supermarkets have confirmed that should any suppliers want to come forward to the Commission and report issues, this would not breach any obligations they have with the supermarkets.

What information can be provided?

The Commission is interested in any concerns or information from any party in the grocery sector – including suppliers, major supermarkets, new and expanding retailers or any other stakeholder. This includes concerning behaviour, but also any other insights that people in the sector may wish to bring forward to the Commission.

Examples of the type of conduct we are interested in includes (but is not limited to):

  • Possible breaches of the Grocery Supply Code or the Grocery Industry Competition Act
  • Any threatening or intimidating behaviour against other parties
  • Instances where major supermarkets might be using their power unfairly.

Grocery Industry Competition Act

The Grocery Industry Competition Act came into force on 10 July 2023, and gives the Commerce Commission powers to monitor and regulate the grocery sector. The new function headed by the Grocery Commissioner oversees the Grocery Supply Code, which seeks to address the imbalance in power between retailers and suppliers.

The Grocery Industry Competition Act designates Foodstuffs North Island, Foodstuffs South Island, and Woolworths New Zealand as regulated grocery retailers (RGRs). It puts requirements on them to consider requests from other retailers for wholesale supply in good faith, and to follow the Grocery Supply Code in their dealings with suppliers.

These changes are designed to bring more competition to the sector and more transparency to agreements between the RGRs and suppliers, benefiting New Zealand consumers over the long-term. This includes more convenient shopping, more choice and better prices.

New responsibilities to regulate sit alongside our ongoing work in the grocery sector enforcing the Fair Trading Act and the Commerce Act.

There is more information about the Commission’s responsibilities in the sector on our website

here

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