Crash Course in ... Competition Law

Article excerpt

Your sales manager was spotted in the bar at a conference last week in a huddle with his opposite numbers at your two main rivals. He says it was just a social chat, but how can you ensure your firm isn't engaging in anti-competitive behaviour?

So what's that? There are two main areas of competition law: anti-competitive agreements, including price-fixing, bid-rigging, carving up the market and other cartel-like behaviour; and abuse of a dominant position, covering anything from over-pricing to refusing to supply certain customers.

Put it on the agenda. Get top-level buy-in - penalties can be up to 10% of turnover and five years in jail. Consider putting it in your vision and values statement; spell out that knowingly participating in anti-competitive practices constitutes gross misconduct.

Comply with me. Your lawyers can help you create a compliance programme. 'It's all about education,' says Angelique Bret, a senior solicitor at Denton Wilde Sapte. 'We create a set of rules giving your employees practical guidelines on what they can and can't do, tailored to your business.' Have the rules laminated and stuck on the wall, or handed out as cards.

Stop careless talk. 'Don't talk to competitors about prices, markets and customers,' says David Marks, a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna. 'Even if you're not making agreements, any sharing of information in these areas inherently leads to less competition.' An employee caught up in an awkward conversation should withdraw - then report it to the legal department afterwards. …