Blog: Dean BestAussie retail giant Woolworths sets up supplier helpline

Dean Best | 1 March 2012

Woolworths, Australia's largest retailer, which, alongside rival Coles, has faced calls for an industry watchdog to be set up in the country, has created a hotline for suppliers to call if they have complaints about its staff.

The company has launched Speak Up, a helpline that manufacturers can use over issues including fraud, corruption and "bullying".

The helpline should be used if the "standard escalation procedures have either been exhausted or are not an option", Woolworths said.

The retailer said it was the "first major Australian retailer to adopt such a scheme", which it added was "part of its commitment to continuous improvement, transparency and accountability".

Australian food manufacturers have called for an ombudsman to be formed to oversee the dealings between suppliers and retailers. Woolworths and Coles account for around 80% of Australia's grocery market and, as competition between the two has intensified in recent months, suppliers have found margins under pressure.

Last year, Heinz CFO Art Winkleblack described the Australian food sector as an "inhospitable trading environment". 

In an interview with just-food in September, Kate Carnell, the chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, said competition between Woolworths and Coles had "escalated" and the retailers had become "much more aggressive" with suppliers. The country's competition authorities had "done nothing" to protect suppliers and had "allowed and supported Coles and Woolworths getting bigger".

Last month, Coles, which had just reported a jump in half-year earnings and had seen its sales growth outpace Woolworths over the six-month period, hit out at the calls for an ombudsman.

Richard Goyder, the managing director of Wesfarmers, the Australian conglomerate that owns Coles, has said calls for a watchdog to be set up are "a joke".

While Coles and its owner (and no doubt Woolworths) will not want a formal ombudsman to be created, all eyes will be on Australia's number two retailer to see if it follows its arch-rival's lead.


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