The former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett, played an integral role in busting Coles for its “freshly baked” bread claims, but is now working for the supermarket.
Coles has appointed Kennett, as an independent arbiter to oversee a new Supplier Charter and help resolve commercial disputes.
Last year, Kennett got tongues wagging when he started enquiring about the origins of his bread and muffins, sending the baked goods to the ACCC and the federal court later ruled that the supermarket misled shoppers.
Coles managing director, John Durkan, said Mr Kennett will play a pivotal role in an innovative and transparent model to drive equitable outcomes in business-to-business dealings.
“Coles is committed to supporting our suppliers so they can grow their business alongside ours and continue to deliver great products for our customers,” Durkan said. “We recognise the importance of building strong, collaborative and wherever possible, long-term partnerships. We are already changing the way we do business by introducing more long-term contracts which help suppliers to plan and invest in the future.
“To underpin our commitment we have launched a new Charter which sets out what suppliers can expect when they work with Coles. It is a formal commitment to deal in good faith with our suppliers, ensuring they are always treated with respect and that our commercial dealings with them are transparent.
“A key measure to strengthen confidence is to establish a rigorous, independent third party process to resolve disputes, and to ensure Coles is held accountable.
“We are pleased that Mr Kennett has agreed to accept a part-time role as independent arbiter for the next three years. We accept he has articulated strong views about Coles’ conduct in the past, and that he will do so when and where necessary into the future. We believe his reputation as an independent voice will stand any test.
“Mr Kennett will make recommendations directly to me on proposals to resolve disputes. Should there continue to be disagreements, Mr Kennett’s final recommendations will be binding on Coles.
“If Mr Kennett feels the need, he is free to publish his decisions or raise any concerns externally, as he sees fit, including through the media, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and other relevant authorities.”
Kennett said he welcomed the appointment as an important opportunity to strengthen relationships across the supply chain in Australia’s vital food production and processing industries.
“I hope my services as the independent arbiter will rarely be called upon. But if there are disputes that require intervention, I can assure both and all parties of my complete independence in determining a common sense solution,” Kennett said.
The Coles Supplier Charter will govern relationships with farmers, food processors and other grocery suppliers and provide avenues for quick and equitable resolution of disputes. Coles will fund and implement the new Charter Framework.
The Charter framework will involve three complaints procedures for suppliers: referral to a dispute resolution manager via a confidential process; high-level internal review; and, recourse to the independent arbiter. Use of the framework will be free for suppliers.
Kennett, as independent arbiter, will report annually on his activities. This may include recommendations on how to improve the Charter and Framework.
Coles will also commission an independent anonymous survey of suppliers on the workings of the new system, including any recommendations they might have for improvements.
Nothing in the framework will preclude any supplier from raising any complaint or dispute with the ACCC or under any applicable industry code.