Bunnings under pressure to improve relations with green life growers

by | Jun 28, 2024

Although major Australian retailers are now expected to pay multibillion-dollar fines for misconduct with suppliers, it seems that the same rules do not apply to Bunnings leaving plant growers unprotected, a New Daily report has found.
 

Bunnings

The Australian Government recently announced that it would adopt every recommendation from the independent review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, which could include possible multibillion-dollar fines to Coles and Woolworths for ripping off suppliers, a considered a win for farmers.

However, plant growers were left unprotected when the review decided Bunnings did not fall under the same code.

Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) has spent months campaigning for the big box to be brought under the code, due to alleged unfair arrangements with growers.

GIA Chief Executive Officer Joanna Cave said in the report that while she was pleased the code would be strengthened, the decision to leave Bunnings out was “deeply disappointing”.

“The issue’s acknowledged, but greenlife growers are left out in the cold. They are effectively the only growers within the whole of the horticultural sector that do not benefit from a code of practice protection which is why we were asking for them to be included in the first place.”

A review by former Labor Minister Craig Emerson recommended Bunnings work with GIA to develop a document that sets out expectations on the supply of nursery plants. When responding to the review, the government also outlined concerns about allegations of retailer conduct towards nursery plant suppliers. It said it would, “continue to monitor conduct in the nursery plants industry”.

It is believed that growers have already found Bunnings to be more “careful and considerate” as its conduct has garnered attention in recent months.

Ms Cave also said in the report that Bunnings had already placed some rebates under review.

“We’re interested to see what sticks now that the government has made its position clear that they won’t be admitted to the Food and Grocery Code. Will Bunnings breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual? Or have they learned their lesson and are they willing to make some changes for the benefit of the greenlife growers?” Ms Cave said in the report.

Bunnings Managing Director Mike Schneider said in a statement to The New Daily that Bunnings welcomed the recommendation that retailers outside the supermarket and grocery industry not be taken into the code.

“We note the report’s suggestion that we work collaboratively to set out expectations relating to the supply of nursery plants, and we look forward to continuing to engage with suppliers and relevant industry associations. We recognise that good supplier relationships are essential for the continued success of our business,” Mr Schneider said in the report.

Ms Cave said due to a significant power imbalance between Bunnings and plant growers, she was concerned that further negotiations could be stymied.

GIA alleged in the report that Bunnings holds 70 per cent market share of the plant and nursery sector, however Bunnings says it is less than 30 per cent.

GIA had been approached by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to discuss potential nursery code of conduct, according to Ms Cave and while it would be unlikely to emulate the food and grocery code, but be more specifically tailored to the needs of greenlife growers.

Ms Cave said one area needing attention included stronger commitments between the retailer and greenlife growers. One alleged complaint from growers is that Bunnings would not commit to buying specific volumes of plants, leaving many out of pocket.

A nursery code of conduct would also need to include an anonymous complaints mechanism, similar to the one that will become part of the food and grocery code with Ms Cave saying growers had little to no avenues for recourse when facing problems.

“Bunnings does operate a complaints procedure of its own. But you can understand why growers would feel very reluctant to use a complaints procedure managed, funded and organised by the very organisation it wants to complain about.”

“That’s why we’ve been lobbying for a code that contains within it decent dispute-resolution mechanisms, because without that the growers really have no way of raising concerns,” she said in the report.