Supermarket giant Woolworths has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission over its controversial Jamie Oliver marketing campaign.
A spokesperson for the ACCC confirmed to SmartCompany this morning the watchdog has cleared Woolworths after a full investigation.
Australian vegetable growers called on the ACCC in June to investigate the behaviour of the supermarket giant after it sought contributions from its suppliers to fund a fresh food marketing campaign fronted by the popular English chef.
AUSVEG, Australia’s peak body for vegetable growers, had claimed Woolworths demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual suppliers around Australia to fund the campaign in the form of a 40c per crate charge, in addition to levies already paid by growers to cover marketing costs.
They claimed they were frightened they would be blacklisted and receive fewer orders for produce as a result of not complying with the requests to fund the campaign.
Woolworths maintained the contribution was entirely voluntary and suppliers were contributing because they saw the benefits of a campaign fronted by Oliver.
Oliver himself had responded, saying he was essentially an “employee” of Woolworths and as such had no sway regarding the commercial direction or negotiations that the Woolworths business takes.
In a speech made today, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said there was no evidence to support suppliers had been unfairly pressured.
But Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany the outcome showed the lack of regulatory power the ACCC actually has.
“What it means is, the ACCC doesn’t have the right powers,” says Strong. “Everybody knows that [the Jamie Olive campaign] was wrong.”
“The ACCC would have done what it needed to do to investigate I’m sure, but they didn’t have the power to follow up the claims of bullying.”
Strong says the outcome reinforces the need for an overhaul of competition policy in Australia.
AUSVEG said in a statement is has expressed a lack of surprise that the watchdog had been unable to find evidence growers were unfairly pressured.
AUSVEG said it nevertheless stands by its claims that Australian growers did feel pressure to contribute a 40c-per-crate of produce supplied levy to the retail giant to help fund the marketing campaign.
“We know this to be the case because leading growers from around the country approached us with their concerns, and that’s why we went public,” said AUSVEG spokesperson Andrew MacDonald.
This article was updated with comments from AUSVEG.