Although few will be surprised by the “climate of apprehension” highlighted in the OFT’s recent review of the Supermarket Code of Practice’s first year in operation, individual converters’ reluctance to allow even their trade associations to voice concerns on their behalf shows just how tough a challenge the OFT faces in seeking to right existing wrongs.

Amidst the current backdrop of falling margins and cut-throat competition, UK packaging companies could justifiably argue they have enough on their plates without biting the hand that feeds them by complaining about shabby treatment from their customers.

However, as the OFT has emphasised repeatedly, only if they produce hard, detailed evidence of ‘unfair’ treatment and submit it for scrutiny can it address individual concerns or change the Code to make it work more effectively in the future.

All the large supermarkets claim they are committed to the Code and to treating suppliers fairly. However, if a retailer flagrantly breaks the provisions, then manufacturers suffering as a result have a duty to say so.

The Packaging Federation ceo Ian Dent invites converters keen to discuss their worries in confidence to contact him, a sentiment we are sure is shared by the many other influential trade associations that represent the sector’s disparate interests.

While supplier nervousness of upsetting long-stading relationships is understandable, the Code will remain toothless unless those with grievances speak up and put their complaints on record. If the sector wants action, then it really must stand up and be counted.

Jonathan Baillie