Various national competition authorities (“NCAs”) are continuing to consider sustainability arguments in competition cases. However, NCAs are increasingly diverging in their approach as to whether, and to what extent, they are willing to allow sustainability considerations in the competition law framework. This blogpost highlights a few recent developments in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Belgian approval of an initiative in the banana sector
On 30 March 2023, the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) approved a sustainability initiative concerning living wages in the banana industry. This marks the first initiative based on sustainability grounds approved by the Belgian NCA.
The IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, a social enterprise working with various entities towards facilitating sustainable trade in global supply chains, and five Belgian supermarkets proposed a collaboration scheme aimed at closing the gap between actual wages and living wages in the banana sector. The collaboration will consist of meetings and discussions where the companies’ internal conduct will be assessed and further developed with the aim to better support living wages for workers in the participants’ banana supply chains.
The collaboration will involve the exchange of certain data and information which the BCA did not consider anticompetitive. The participants have committed to not set mandatory or recommended minimum prices and to not communicate any changes in costs relating to their supply chains. IDH will supervise the collaboration and any data shared will be verified by an independent third party.
Similar initiatives concerning the banana sector have been proposed in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. The German NCA has already approved the proposed initiative. Neither the Belgian nor the German NCA considered the initiatives in question to infringe competition law. There is, however, a fine line between such agreements falling in or outside the scope of competition law, and potentially amounting to an infringement. For example, clauses which lead to non-negligible price increases for end-consumers could raise questions and potentially be considered to have anticompetitive effect. It can therefore be expected that that NCAs will periodically monitor the implementation of such initiatives.