Author: Steven Cernak
So you have been invited to your first trade association meeting. Sounds like fun, right? You get a chance to mix and mingle with others in your industry, maybe swap notes with your counterparts at competitors who face the same pressures you do. What could go wrong?
A lot, from an antitrust perspective. While trade associations can provide tremendous benefits to members, by definition, they are meetings among competitors. Communication with competitors can lead to “agreements,” whether explicit handshakes or implicit winks and nods. And some of those agreements, like most related to competitive pricing, are automatically illegal and subject to severe penalties for both you and the company. Here, antitrust law follows Adam Smith’s admonition that
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
So even if you remember your company’s training from when you joined years ago and know enough to spell “antitrust” without a hyphen, you still need to remember these tips.
Learn from others in your company
You might not be the first in your company to attend an association meeting. Contact your lawyer or boss to see if your company has rules or other guidance for attending them. Follow that guidance. Some companies even require such reporting before attending. Others in your company might know this particular association and have some suggestions on how to make your attendance both safe and productive for you and your company.
If you need to vet the association, start by asking to see its antitrust policy. All associations of competitors should have one and should be willing and able to share it with you quickly. Most post it online. The policy should acknowledge the necessity to follow all applicable antitrust laws and briefly describe how the association does just that. Frankly, the details are not as important as the fact that the association has one and can quickly provide it. An association executive who responds to your request with “Anti what?” should set off alarm bells.