Talking Retail April 2008

Yesterday I received a letter from Mike Coupe, Trading Director of Sainsbury’s explaining where their business stood regarding the allegation that one of their suppliers had been bribing one of their buyers.  I first saw this story in the Sunday newspapers and found it shocking.  You just don’t expect this sort of thing to involve Sainsbury’s.  The letter I received had been sent to all of their suppliers and this letter is the start of a campaign to distance themselves from the alleged perpetrator and to begin rebuilding their reputation.

Mike Coupe’s letter wanted to reassure us that this was a rogue incident and also invite us to contact himself or Justin King if we were aware of any irregularities.  If that was not acceptable to any potential whistle blower, Karen Whitworth, Head of Internal Audit who reports independently to their Plc audit committee, was offered up as an alternative contact.

Now on the face of it this might all appear very responsible, offering suppliers an opportunity to have access to the top of the business with complaints.  But the big question is this:  is this just another example of how the power supermarkets command over its suppliers is such that some suppliers will do almost anything to keep their business?

Supermarket power has created a climate of fear amongst its suppliers and with this fear comes control.  Supermarkets prefer to deal with just a few major suppliers for logistical purposes, making it very difficult for the smaller suppliers to get a look in.  When a significant portion of a retailer’s business is with one supplier that supplier quickly learns that to survive long term the best thing to do is jump when the retailer says so.  Complaining about a buyer could be akin to committing financial suicide.  I am very interested to know how many calls they get to their whistle blower line.  The number is 0800 328 4751 for anybody out there who fancies stitching up a Sainsbury’s buyer or two!

Sainsbury’s code of hospitality is supposed to make us suppliers feel confident that there is a spirit of openness that prevails throughout the business, but openness starts at the front door.

Only a week ago I tried getting the email addresses for Justin King, Pip Wood, Director of Communications and Helen Buck, Director of Marketing only to be told by the switchboard that they don’t give out email addresses, leaving me no alternative but to use snail mail which could mean that my letter could be caught up in the corporate system and probably receive little attention, if any, for several months.  My reason for writing to these bosses is not of whistle blower proportions but it is about an injustice and unfairness, which, I would maintain, is just as important as the above bribery.

It is all well and good having a whistle blower line but most complaints are not of the bribery level.  If you have created a system to handle complaints of that level, other problems and issues that suppliers have could easily fall by the wayside.  It has been seven days so far since I sent my letter, I will keep you posted on how long they take to respond.

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~ by theblackfarmer on January 18, 2010.

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