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Businesses can collaborate in order to achieve sustainability goals

Businesses can collaborate in order to achieve sustainability goals. That message is at the core of the new policy rule “ACM’s oversight of sustainability agreements” of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). ACM does not want competition rules to stand in the way of agreements that contribute towards a more sustainable society. This policy rule is in line with recently revised European rules, and replaces previous draft guidelines of ACM on sustainability agreements between businesses.

Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM: “We see that many companies are adapting their businesses to meet sustainability goals. We welcome that trend. Businesses can also work together to achieve those goals, without violating the competition rules. The European Commission has now confirmed this in its new guidelines. Because many collaborations can impact the inter-state trade within the EU, we follow this line of the European Commission, and have drawn up this policy rule on the basis of those revised European rules. The new rules explain what opportunities businesses have, but also set out clear conditions in order to prevent ‘greenwashing’, and to ensure that society as a whole benefits from such collaborations.”

The policy rule follows the approach to sustainability agreements that the European Commission explains in its Guidelines regarding horizontal cooperation agreements. The policy rule also explains that ACM will not take enforcement action in two additional situations if all conditions are met. This provides businesses with more opportunities to collaborate. In sum, it regards the following situations:

  1. Businesses can agree to comply with a binding national or European sustainability rule that is not (or cannot be) fully implemented or enforced – for example, in the area of waste recycling; and
  2. Businesses can agree to efficiently achieve environmental goals, such as reduction of CO2 emissions, if the consumer receives an appreciable and objective part of the benefits.

On the assumption that the conditions are met, businesses do not have to fear a fine in those two situations.

Businesses that have questions about sustainability agreements may contact ACM. The policy rule also explains how businesses can contact ACM, the process of informal guidance by ACM and what information businesses will need to submit for such informal guidance. The policy rule also (further) explains under what circumstances ACM will not impose fines.

What is a policy rule?

Under the Dutch General Administrative Law Act (Awb), ACM has the power to set policy rules. In such policy rules, ACM explains how it will exercise certain powers. For example, ACM may explain how it deals with its power to impose fines in certain situations. In the Policy Rule on ACM’s oversight of sustainability agreements ACM explains the choices it makes specifically for sustainability agreements. In this way, it becomes more predictable for market participants how ACM will act in certain situations. A guidance document is a different type of document, namely one in which ACM explains how it interprets a statutory provision.

ACM and sustainability

ACM ensures that markets work well for people and businesses, now and in the future. Sustainable products and consumption are important in the transition to a more sustainable society. ACM wishes to create the right conditions for promoting the sustainability transition. ACM eliminates obstacles, and offers leeway where possible. We do so not just for businesses that wish to make sustainability agreements. ACM also takes action against businesses that use misleading sustainability claims on their products.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please contact us by sending an email to info [at] acm [punt] nl