Retail code of conduct discussed at Sydney forum
Some of Australia's leading retail representative groups and franchise systems met yesterday to discuss ways to reenergise the struggling retail sector, such as the creation of a Retail Leasing Code of Conduct.
National bodies such as the Franchise Council of Australia, the Australian Retailers Association, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Restaurant and Catering gathered in Sydney for the Retail Issues Forum where potential remedies to the ailing retail sector were discussed.
Representatives of official agencies, state and federal governments and franchise systems including Silver Chef, Mr Rental, The Cheesecake Shop, Luxottica, Retail Food Group and Mrs Fields discussed the possibility of creating a Retail Leasing Code of Conduct, which would help to address the power imbalances between landlords and tenants.
The Code of Conduct would address issues including:
- the disclosure of information about rents paid by other businesses
- when the lease renewal communications take place and ensuring it's not at the very end of the current agreement
- substantiation of rival offers for the retail space
- dispute resolution
Steve Wright, executive director at the FCA said the code would be based on "transparency of intentions, not game playing" and the aim of the Retail Issues Forum was to establish "a common understanding and therefore potential to talk to stakeholders and government".
The Forum came just one day after the Shopping Centre Council of Australia refused to take part in discussions on a retail code. In a statement, the Council said "Given that Australia already has the most highly regulated retail tenancy industry in the western world, we have no intention of adding to that already considerable volume of regulation through the adoption of a code of conduct. This is the major reason why we refuse to negotiate with the FCA over a retail tenancy code of conduct".
While Wright said he "wasn't surprised" about the SCC's rejection of a code, he says further discussions with shopping centres and their representative bodies are on the cards. The Forum also raised the possibility of naming and shaming organisations that reject a Retail Leasing Code while publicly praising those that support it.
As well as discussing a Code of Conduct, yesterday's Forum also:
- Called on the Federal Government to substantially reduce penalty rates that apply under Federal Awards in recognition that penalty rates are imposing unreasonable costs on businesses
- Supported the introduction of a small business assistance program modelled on the UK and US examples
- Called upon governments to address and neutralise ‘bracket creep’ in payroll taxations; and
- Called for a GST to be imposed and import duty on all foreign e-commerce transactions above $50
Moving forward, Wright said "What we envisage is that we share what we've developed so far with any group which has interest ... and then go to the government.
"When the landlords see momentum of tenants they'll see it as being much more important."