Coles has released a statement rejecting the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Statement of Claim lodged in the Federal Court last week.
The ACCC claims that Coles engaged in “unconscionable conduct” against small business suppliers, using its bargaining position to, among other things, demand payment agreements without legitimate basis, withholding money, and refusing to repay money.
A Coles spokesperson has said the allegations concern “a limited number of dealings with five Coles suppliers three years ago.”
“The individual communications with, and regarding, suppliers referred to in the ACCC’s Statement of Claim, were part of ongoing commercial negotiations involving a much broader, longer-term trading relationship with each supplier,” the spokesperson said.
The supermarket chain claims these communications are “normal topics” between suppliers and retailers, and point out that “commercial negotiations can be robust, regardless of the industry or sector.”
The ACCC alleges that Coles pursued suppliers for payment, both retrospectively and prospectively, for amounts it claimed as “waste”, but the supermarket chain says payments for waste is simply “common business practice” in retail worldwide.
Coles say they focus on waste and poor performance of products because they contribute to higher prices for their customers, claiming that responsibility for waste may lie with suppliers, retailers, or both.
“Since 2011 Coles has taken substantial steps to improve its ways of working with suppliers. Coles has also been a leading voice since 2013 in the industry-led drafting of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, which is currently with the Department of Treasury,” the Coles spokesperson said.
“Coles is convinced retailers and suppliers will both benefit from quicker, low-cost dispute resolution.”
The matter will be heard on 24 October 2014.