The start of a new calendar year marks a good opportunity for businesses to review their competition and consumer law compliance programs and identify key risk areas for the year ahead. The most recent annual report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) shows that the ACCC is continuing to investigate a large number of matters, with 427 initial investigations and 167 in-depth investigations commenced in 2015-16 (and more than 340,000 contacts received by the ACCC's contact centre).
As outlined in our ACCC investigations guide, there are steps that businesses can take to make sure that they are prepared for an investigation by the ACCC. The steps include:
- Maintain an internal compliance program - An effective compliance program can help to pick up potential issues and therefore reduce the risk of an ACCC investigation. Compliance training (which is tailored to the business and relevant staff) should be provided regularly, and compliance materials kept up to date
- Review internal processes, protocols and record keeping - Ensuring that the company is in a position to quickly and efficiently produce relevant information and documents in response to an ACCC investigation can help to reduce the cost and disruptiveness of an investigation. Examples of areas that can be considered include IT and document retention, employment agreements and policies, reporting lines and processes, legal privilege and dawn raid guidelines
- Monitor complaints - Frequent complaints about a particular issue could signal potential risks under competition or consumer law. Monitoring complaints can help to pick up and address such risks early.
- Identify and monitor risk areas - It is important to have processes in place to ensure that risks are identified and legal advice is sought when appropriate. Examples of what could be put in place to monitor risk areas include protocols for attendance at trade association events or other functions at which competitors may be present, and processes for legal review of proposed agreements and marketing collateral.
- Keep up with developments - Understanding ACCC focus areas, and relevant developments in the law through cases or legislative change, can help to focus compliance efforts. Areas such as cartel conduct and anti-competitive agreements/practices are enduring priority areas for the ACCC. The ACCC's specific enforcement priority areas for 2017 are scheduled to be released later in February.
For more information, see our ACCC investigations guide.