Amazon could face probe over treatment of UK grocery suppliers, watchdog says

FILE PHOTO: An Amazon logo is seen at its centre in Darlington, County Durham, Britain September 3, 2020. REUTERS/Lee Smith/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's grocery regulator on Thursday threatened Amazon with a formal investigation if it does not improve its compliance with an industry code designed to protect suppliers.

The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) said its 2024 annual survey found that less than half of respondents directly supplying Amazon believed the U.S. giant "consistently" or "mostly" complied with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP).

The Code aims to ensure Britain's 14 largest grocery retailers, including market leader Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer, treat suppliers fairly. Amazon has been subject to it since 2022.

It restricts firms from making changes to supply contracts at short notice and also requires retailers to give an appropriate period of notice if they no longer want to use a supplier and provide reasons for ending the contract.

Amazon’s perceived Code compliance score fell to 47% from 59% in 2023, with Amazon retaining its position in last place some 41 percentage points behind Iceland on 88% in 13th place.

"We are very disappointed by these results and we are committed to improving them," an Amazon spokesperson said.

The GCA said it had told Amazon to take "swift and comprehensive action" to demonstrably comply with the Code.

The regulator is monitoring changes that Amazon is making and their impact to determine whether they are sufficient.

"I will not hesitate to launch a formal investigation if appropriate and necessary to ensure Amazon is treating its suppliers fairly and lawfully," said Mark White, the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

Ultimately, the GCA can impose financial penalties of up to 1% of a large retailer's UK turnover.

The Amazon spokesperson said it had made several improvements for grocery suppliers since last year’s results, with clearer explanations for cost price increase decisions, minimum periods for de-listing, and the launch of a major upgrade for handling invoice disputes.

“We will be making further changes, with faster time-frames to resolve more types of financial disputes, as well as strengthened account management support for smaller suppliers," the person said.The GCA said overall Code compliance scores across the retailers, excluding Amazon, averaged 94%, unchanged from 2023.

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter)

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