First Responsibility Deals reveal weaknesses in competition law framework

Two recent pieces of media coverage questioning the effectiveness of the present design of Responsibility Deals/ voluntary agreements are worth reading.

A story that headlined the Daily Mail on 1 August 2011 revealed how the usage of plastic bags has once again start to rise despite the WRAP-coordinated Responsibility Deal.  In follow-up Marks & Spencer acknowledged on 9 August that charging for plastic bags was the only effective way of tackling the problem.  However as our Plastic Bags case study explains, under the present competition law framework supermarkets can only co-ordinate on charges, and their timing, if an exception is made by the Competition Minister at BIS.   The 2008 Defra-led Impact Assessment (see pages 103-4) sets out why the Competition minister needs to use his powers.  Alternatively legislation will be required, which would miss out on benefits available through business cooperation, such as increased flexibility of solutions and drawing more fully on businesses’ on-the-ground knowledge.

In the same week, criticism has also been mounted in the BBC’s Panorama programme ‘Dying for a drink’ regarding the effectiveness of the Public Health Responsibility Deal and government advisory groups.  Again many of the complaints come back to pricing controls and the present inability of the coregulatory initiative to use this tool.

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