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The Competition Commission (CC) has demanded Tesco and Asda hand over millions of emails and letters in response to claims the grocery giants put intense pressure on suppliers to cut prices.
The CC is believed to have received information in confidence from suppliers which alleges they have been ordered to drop their prices or face having products delisted.
The emails and letters are alleged to contain threatening language which contravenes the code of conduct signed by all supermarkets in 2000. The seizures, which are believed to centre around a five-week period in June, were made possible with the use of Section 109 notices which give the CC the legal right to inspect supermarkets' activities. Both Tesco and Asda have confirmed they have received the request from the CC, but deny any wrongdoing. Asda said that the number of emails passed between the supermarket group and their suppliers during the time frame under consideration could be as many as 11 million.
According to the Commission's timetable, the provisional findings of the inquiry are due to be announced next month. A spokesman for the CC said the notices would allow it to "investigate more thoroughly". He told Convenience Store: "I can confirm we made a request to two retailers to look at their correspondence over a period of time. Suppliers have been coming forward and we are keen for more to do so. We don't foresee the provisional findings being delayed because of this."
The Association of Convenience Stores said it was pleased the Commission was using its powers to gain necessary information, but expressed some concern that the action was taking place at such a late stage in the investigation.
Public affairs manager Shane Brennan said: "The ACS has been pushing the Competition Commission from the start to get all the information it needs from suppliers as it is a critical issue in the investigation.
"We will wait to see if this represents a breakthrough of any kind, but it is encouraging to see that the Commission is using its powers to get hold of information it really needs."
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