Canada’s grocery industry is in the throes of creating a code of conduct. And given the way it’s raked in profits in the face of inflation and a global pandemic, I guess it’s better for the sector to have some guidelines in place about how to conduct itself, rather than to have none at all.
It shouldn’t need them. It’s not a sector that deals with emergencies, moral questions and crises, like police or other first responders for example, who can look to a code of conduct for guidance when trying to handle hot issues.
These are grocers, and perhaps, those elsewhere along the supply chain.
And while the task of presenting food to us is not easy, isn’t it obvious how they should conduct themselves? You’d think so.
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For example, act ethically. Don’t cut each other’s throats. Consider more than profit when pricing food.
Don’t take advantage of the people who count on you for sustenance. Remember families are on the receiving end of the prices you set when determining profit.
Take responsibility. Don’t charge outrageous prices then blame it on a supply chain that no one really understands or can easily see.
Be transparent. Everyone understands that you need to make a profit; no one is denying that. But you’re in the same boat as banks – we all want banks to be solvent, but it’s pretty hard to feel like they’re on our side, helping us battle inflation, when they charge 20-plus percent on credit card interest.
Stop using your near-monopolies to squeeze out small producers and companies clamouring for some shelf space.
And finally, don’t even think about pointing fingers at farmers when you boost prices. True, their income is up, for some commodities. But their expenses have skyrocketed. So have yours… but their profits are not record profits like yours. And many of them have jobs off the farm to make ends meet.
Last week, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Marie-Claude Bibeau waded in. She was trying to show support for the code development process, which so far has not been driven by Ottawa.
“We do recognize that a Grocery Code of Conduct will not address all pressures facing the food supply chain,” she said in a news release. “Issues at stake are very complex and need to consider a variety of conditions and perspectives.”
In the minister’s words, with businesses united, “the Code of Conduct can be even more effective, which ultimately, will not only benefit the industry, but consumers as well.”
She’s certainly right about part of it. Who knows if consumers will benefit. But industry will, if the alternative is to have the government step in tell it how to conduct its affairs. No one wants that…but as the minister alluded to, transparency, predictability and fair dealing is not a hallmark of the grocery industry right now. It’s a bad image.
A nagging worry though is what happens when someone breaks the code. Will consumers even know? And if so, will the offenders be forgiven?
Making sure a mechanism exists to raise public awareness of violations would go a long way towards its credibility and success.