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Retail and Wholesale need major investment for digital and sustainability transformation

In the first ever session in the EU Industry Days dedicated to the retail and wholesale ecosystem, EuroCommerce Director General, Christel Delberghe, shed light on the significant transformation underway in the sector and the need to help businesses embrace the digital and sustainability transition. She said:

“We need to make investment and retail and wholesale competitiveness a priority. Retailers and wholesalers are still struggling with a range of challenges 2 years after the first COVID outbreak, with continued restrictions and staff absences, inflation, labour shortage and supply chain disruption - at a time when the ecosystem is transforming significantly and rapidly with limited resources. This is why our sector requires a regulatory framework and other measures which can support this transformation. Despite being recognised as an essential ecosystem, we see national recovery plans providing little or no such support. We look forward to working with the Commission on creating a transition pathway and to co-create a framework that supports our eco-system’s transformation.”

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Barriers to the single market undermine EU recovery and supply chains

The European Parliament voted yesterday on its own-initiative report on tackling non-tariff barriers in the single market. EuroCommerce Director General Christel Delberghe said:

“With the 30th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty and of the 1992 target date of completing the single market this year, we very much support the many excellent proposals in the Parliament report on non-tariff barriers. We particularly welcome the report raising the problem of territorial supply constraints, the restrictions imposed by global brand manufacturers which cost Europe’s consumers upwards of €14 billion a year. We ask the Commission to take immediate action to address these, and to tackle the worrying trend of member states introducing further barriers since the COVID pandemic.”

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Retail and wholesale need due diligence rules which reflect the reality of their businesses

Commenting today at the launch of the European Commission’s draft directive on Sustainable Corporate Governance, EuroCommerce Director General Christel Delberghe set out how seriously retailers and wholesalers take their responsibility to identify and reduce the risk of abuses in their supply chains: 

“Retailers and wholesalers have long been active in addressing potential problems in their supply chains and have been closely involved in voluntary due diligence measures, and in sectoral and specific commodity schemes. We recognise our responsibility and act on it, working with suppliers to ensure responsible conduct across the chain.  But the nature of retail and wholesale means dealing with a constantly changing multiplicity of actors in highly differentiated, often global value chains. We therefore ask the co-legislators to adopt a measure which takes these specificities into account and provides clear definitions and a proportionate allocation of responsibilities.”

Our sector relies on complex and diverse supply chains across the world. We need a due diligence regime which focuses responsibility where it can be implemented most effectively. Our sector is now, and in the future, committed to taking responsibility for tackling current societal challenges and committed to be part of the solution. But it can only have limited impact and leverage beyond the own-brand products it sources directly and in ensuring that tier-1 suppliers respect the rules and can give reliable assurances that they demand the same from their suppliers. 

It is also important that the EU due diligence framework is consistent with existing European legislation, including among others, the Regulation on deforestation-free products/EU Timber Regulation, the Conflict Mineral Regulation but also EU Taxonomy and obligations on non-financial reporting. It should be built on current international and regional guidance such as the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights or the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible business conduct.

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Data Act – getting the right framework key to digital transformation and business competitiveness

Speaking on the launch today of the Commission’s proposed Data Act, EuroCommerce Director General Christel Delberghe welcomed the objectives of the proposal but voiced a number of concerns at its detailed provisions:

“Data is at the heart of the retail and wholesale sector, an essential resource which supports economic growth and innovation of its ecosystem. With our complex supply chains, we already share massive volumes of data based on contractual relationships and this works to the advantage of all involved. This is a model we wish to see the Act preserve.”

We therefore support the Data Act’s objectives in encouraging more data sharing and creating legal certainty. We want the proposal to succeed in achieving these objectives; we are therefore keen to point to a number of provisions which need more thought to avoid deterring, rather than incentivising companies to gather and process data valuable to others. 

While seeing much value in the objectives of the Act, EuroCommerce, in line with a number of other sectors, has pointed to a number of areas where the present provisions of the draft Act need further consideration and change:

  • The proposal sets very low thresholds for access by public authorities to private data with no clear criteria covering the justification and purposes of such access and no clear safeguards.  It would be disproportionate if the rules allow public authorities to sequester such commercially sensitive data beyond the normal obligations under existing rules.
  • Our sector shares, on a voluntary and contractual basis, substantial volumes of data to and from other parts of the supply chain necessary for all involved to do business. The Commission concluded no gap in data sharing concerning our sector, and the Act should avoid cutting across mutually beneficial and well-functioning contractual agreements of this sort, and disrupting the sort of rich data sharing that the Act aims to encourage.
  • We are therefore concerned that mandatory one-size-fits-all regulation covering all sectors of the economy might actually work against more data sharing and disincentivise companies from investing in high-quality data sets. Existing or upcoming sectoral legislation would be the best means of providing legal certainty and rules which fit businesses’ individual circumstances. Incentives for voluntary sharing of data, and initiatives such as the drafting of voluntary model contracts rather than mandatory regulation could be more effective in encouraging companies to share data responsibly and is in any case in no way helpful to our sector or the partners with whom we regularly deal.
  • The inclusion in the proposal of a fairness test, with no clear definition of what is meant by fair, creates unnecessary legal uncertainty and potential for conflict, and we would ask whether such a vague concept is appropriate in a legally-binding text in such a sensitive area.

We will be actively engaging with the co-legislators to achieve a robust legal framework which will help Europe become a leader in a data-driven society and that supports greater business competitiveness.


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Energy and inflation – Europe needs to minimise damage to consumers

Speaking today EuroCommerce Director General Christel Delberghe welcomed the objectives of the proposed actions outlined in the Commission’s REPowerEU initiative to accelerate alternative energy sources and reduce reliance on Russian gas:

“The significant rise in the price of oil and gas over the last few months, and their further dramatic increase as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is hitting retailers and wholesalers very hard. This makes action on energy an urgent priority. The already steep rise in inflation this year will be further fuelled by the present crisis, hitting the whole economy and directly the purchasing power of all Europe’s citizens. Our sector is a significant user of energy in the running of its buildings, cooling systems and logistics, and will need help to weather this major new storm to ensure continuity of business as an essential ecosystem. Retail and wholesale is also immediately affected by spiralling energy and other commodity costs hitting other parts of the supply chain. We ask the Commission and the member states to proceed as a matter of urgency with a temporary crisis framework, include our sector in the list of beneficiaries as a high energy consuming sector and consider other help for companies affected by the rises in energy costs.”

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