The International Law of Antitrust Compliance

By Banks, Ted; Murphy, Joe | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The International Law of Antitrust Compliance


Banks, Ted, Murphy, Joe, Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


INTRODUCTION

It was not so long ago that the concept of international criminal law was an idea with which lawyers struggled. In 1987, Ved Nanda and M. Cherif Bassiouni put together what may have been the first one-volume compendium of information on antitrust, securities, extradition, tax, and other subjects that made up the developing area of international criminal law. Today, it is well-accepted that there are certain standards of behavior that are the norm in practically all nations, and through national laws and multinational treaties, these principles are entering the realm of customary international law.

Developments in the area of competition law, or antitrust as it is known in some countries, have been particularly dramatic. Countries understand that the encouragement of competition is a key to economic development, and national laws have been enacted where they did not exist before, along with enforcement cooperation agreements among increasing numbers of countries. (1) Enforcement of criminal antitrust laws takes place against both individuals and businesses, (2) and while it is clear that there are situations where business entities must be held responsible for actions of their employees, there are other situations where the intent of the corporation may be contrary to the actions of the employee. Throughout the world, in competition law, as well as in other areas of law, there is a consensus that it is appropriate for companies to adopt compliance and ethics programs to utilize management techniques to foster compliance with law. So, as standards of corporate conduct become more universal, they reflect adherence to what is essentially an international law--the international law of competition. At the same time, more national authorities recognize that companies are expected to have compliance programs, and that a bona fide compliance program reflects a corporate intent not to violate the law, and therefore should be a positive factor in how authorities treat such companies, including as a mitigating factor for any penalty that might be imposed based on the ultra vires act by an employee.

It is well accepted that compliance and ethics programs are an expected part of corporate activity, and while no program can always guarantee human behavior, these programs do work to mitigate violations of law. Indeed, it can be said that it is now a standard for companies to have compliance programs or at least some elements of such programs such as codes of conduct. We submit that this growing recognition of the purpose of compliance and ethics programs has reached broad-based acceptance and should now be recognized in the competition law field by the United States and other governments as a standard of international law.

THE CONCEPT OF ORGANIZATIONAL LIABILITY

Under many legal regimes, a corporation cannot be criminally punished for the actions of its employees, and until relatively recently (at least if you consider a century relatively recent), under the common law, a corporation was viewed as a legal fiction, (3) which could not be held liable for the criminal conduct of its employees. In the United States, it was not until 1909, in New York Central & Hudson River Railroad v. United States, (4) that the Supreme Court ruled that because the great majority of business transactions were conducted by corporations, it was time to abandon the "old and exploded doctrine" that a corporation was not indictable. (5) The Court reasoned that, as a matter of public policy, because a corporation could be held civilly liable, criminal liability should also follow. (6)

This concept of corporate liability has been extended to the point where the business is often held liable for acts of employees even if the company was not aware of the violation, (7) prohibited the conduct that led to the violation, (8) or there was no actual benefit to the corporation through the acts of the employee. …

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