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Coles instructed to refund suppliers $12 million

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Around 100 suppliers have been paid back $12 million by Coles after buyers were found to have employed “threatening” tactics in their dealings.

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, appointed to administer an independent review into the processes undertaken between Coles and approximately 220 of its suppliers, has ordered Coles to pay back over $12 million to suppliers and has given suppliers the opportunity to exit Coles’ Active Retail Collaboration (ARC) program without penalty.

“Where I was able to identify such threats I was prepared to consider refunds,” ABC quotes Mr Kennett as saying.

“They threatened if a supplier didn’t agree to new charges their products might not be available on Coles shelves in the future. They might have threatened to elevate the issue to people further up the supply chain of Coles.”

The Federal Court penalised Coles $10 million last year, a result of legal action by the ACCC.

“The arbitration process conducted by Mr Kennett has proven both extremely timely and effective with significant benefits to suppliers,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said Tuesday in a statement.

“The process will also deliver flow on effects for suppliers more broadly as a result of changes Mr Kennett says Coles has begun to implement that affect the way it deals with its suppliers.”

Mr Sims said suppliers were “largely satisfied” with the result and that “a very large number” had decided to accept the relief offered by Coles.

“Coles has taken many steps since 2011 to improve its relationships with our thousands of suppliers and help them grow,” Coles said in a statement.

“We thank Mr Kennett for his work to rapidly address the concerns of these suppliers and will continue to work with him as an independent arbiter under the terms of the Coles Supplier Charter.”