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Tuesday 1 December 2020: Woolworths has appointed experienced lawyer Helen McKenzie as its Code Arbiter, effective in the role from today.

This is a newly created role under the recently strengthened Food and Grocery Code of Conduct (Code), which governs Woolworths Supermarkets’ dealings with its 5,400 food and grocery suppliers.

Ms McKenzie will be responsible for dealing with complaints from suppliers about Woolworths’ compliance with the Code. Woolworths has been a voluntary signatory to the Code since 2015.

In the Code Arbiter role, Ms McKenzie will have authority to settle disputes relating to Woolworths’ obligations under the Code, develop and follow a new complaints handling procedure, and prepare annual reports that will be published and provided to the ACCC and government-appointed Independent Reviewer. Woolworths’ Code Arbiter replaces its Code Compliance Manager, who previously dealt with complaints. 

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said: “As founding signatories, we've been strong advocates of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct for many years.

“The Code provides a robust set of checks and balances and Graeme Samuel’s independent review found it has helped improve relationships between retailers and suppliers. The introduction of the independent Code Arbiter role for each signatory was a key recommendation from that review.

“The enhanced dispute resolution mechanisms in the Code are now among the strongest in the retail industry anywhere in the world and will provide additional assurances that suppliers can speak up safely and have commercial grievances resolved as objectively and expeditiously as possible.  

“Helen McKenzie has a distinguished record in the law, including in dispute resolution, over many years and is well placed to fulfil this critically important role.”

Helen McKenzie is one of Australia's leading employment lawyers with extensive experience in all forms of dispute resolution including conciliation, arbitration, mediation and grievance procedures. Ms McKenzie is also adept at advising on and drafting procedures for the resolution of disputes, complaints and grievances, including whistleblower complaints and third party complaints. Her long experience in legal and business leadership roles means she also brings a high level of commercial acumen to the appointment.

Ms McKenzie said: "I'm delighted to be taking on this role. An important purpose of the Code is to ensure that disputes between retailers and suppliers can be investigated and resolved quickly, fairly and effectively. I trust that my long experience in dispute resolution will give suppliers the confidence to raise concerns with me and that I can demonstrate the value of this important role.”

Since 2016, Woolworths has regularly measured supplier feedback as part of its Voice of Supplier program. In July 2020, Woolworths’ supplier feedback reached a record high, which was maintained in the November 2020 result.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci concluded: “Our aspiration is to be the retail partner of choice for our 5,400 food and grocery suppliers. We will continue to work hard to foster fair, transparent and mutually beneficial partnerships, which enable us to meet the evolving needs of our shared customers in a competitive market.”

Woolworths has a confidential SpeakUp whistleblower service that suppliers can use to raise concerns anonymously as well. The Federal Government will separately appoint an Independent Reviewer to review the processes of all Code Arbiters appointed by Code signatories.

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