While the laws governing antitrust practices have been around decades, issues as to what constitutes a violation of these statutes still come up on a regular basis for business credit professionals. The Robinson Patman Act of 1936, The Clayton Act of 1914 and even the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 still beguile creditors today about what constitutes a violation of these laws and what the laws allow.
“I keep getting calls from creditors asking when must they adhere strictly to Robinson Patman [or] when can they change their terms,” said Wanda Borges, Esq. of Borges & Associates, LLC. Robinson Patman makes it illegal for any person engaging in commerce to “discriminate in price between different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality” and was designed to prevent discriminatory practices that adversely affect competition. In essence, this means that credit terms are required to be a condition of price and charging different customers different prices is legally questionable.
However, credit professionals do this all the time and it’s become common business practice to offer better terms to some customers and other terms to the less worthy ones. Antitrust law also governs the exchange of information, particularly at industry meetings and trade groups. Borges noted that, for the most part, credit professionals at trade groups have become pretty stable in regard to what can and cannot be said. “However,” she said, “the issue still comes up as to who may be a member of a credit group.”
Borges noted that, for credit professionals, these antitrust issues could have “a real impact on their companies.”