Oct. 27, 2020

Newsletter MAFR - Law, Compliance, Regulation

Full reference: Frison-Roche, M.-A., From Competition Law to Compliance Law: example of French Competition Authority decision on central purchasing body in Mass DistributionNewsletter MAFR - Law, Compliance, Regulation, 27th of October 2020

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Summary of the news: Through its decision of 22nd of October 2020, the Autorité de la concurrence (French Competition Authority) accepted the commitments proposed by retail sector's firms Casino, Auchan, Metro and Schiever so that their agreement by which a common body centralizes purchases from numerous retailers, allowing each to offer these products under private label, is admissible with regard to competitive requirements. 

In this particular case, the Authority had self-sized in July 2018, estimating that such a purchase center could harm competition, opening immediately a large consultation on the terms of the contract. In October 2018, the law Egalim permitted to the Authority to take temporary measures to suspend such a contract, what the Authority did from September. 

The convention parties' firms committed on the one hand to update their contract limiting the power on suppliers, especially small and very small suppliers, excluding totally of the field of the contract some kind of products, especially food products and reducing the share of bought products volume dedicated to their transformation in distributor brand. 

The Autorité de la concurrence accepts this proposal of commitments, congratulates itself of the protection of small suppliers operating like that and observe the similarity with the contract consisting in a purchase center between Carrefour and Tesco, which will be examined soon. 

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We can draw three lessons of this innovating decision, which could be a model for after: 

1. The technique of Compliance Law permits to the Autorité de la concurrence to find a reasonable solution for the future. 

  • Indeed, rather than punishing much later by a simple fine or to annihilate the performing mechanism of the purchase center, the Authority obtains contract modifications. 
  • The contract is structured and the obtained modifications are also structural. 
  • The commitments are an Ex Ante technique, imposed to operators, for the future, in an equilibrium between competition, operators and consumers protection and the efficacy of the coordination between powerful operators. 
  • The nomination of a monitor permits to build the future of the sector, thanks to the Ex Ante nature of Compliance Law. 

2. The retail sector finally regulated by Compliance technics.

  • "Distribution law" always struggle to find its place, between Competition law and Contract Law, especially because we cannot consider it as a common "sector". 
  • The Conseil constitutionnel (French constitutional court) refused a structural injunction power to the authority because it was contrary to business freedom and without any doubt ethics of business is not sufficient to the equilibrium of the sector.
  • Through commitments given against a stop of pursuits relying on structuring contracts, it is by Compliance law that a Regulation law free of the condition of existence of a sector could leave.

3. The political nature of Compliance law in the retail sector

  • As for digital space, which is not a sector, Compliance law can directly impose to actors imperatives that are strangers to them. 
  • In the digital space, the care for fighting against Hate and for protecting private life; here the care for small and very small suppliers. 

 

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See in counterpoints the pursuit of a contentious procedure against Sony, whose the proposals of commitments, made after a public consultation, were not found satisfying.

To go further, on the question of Compliance law permitting through indirect way the rewriting by the Conseil of a structuring contract (linking a platform created by the State to centralize health data with an American firm subsidy to manage them).