Ensuring fair play in global business

Published 28 November 2017
What information can a company share with its competitors? How should we react if a competitor proposes price fixing? Business ethics and fair play on global markets is about making the right choices every day. For Stora Enso, one important way to ensure that we do business ethically around the world is to provide detailed practical training on competition law for our employees.
With operations in more than 35 countries, Stora Enso serves global markets and is subject to a wide variety of local, national, and international business regulations.

“For Stora Enso, business ethics is not only about complying with regulations, however, but about having a wider ethical approach to business,” says Pontus Selderman, Ethics and Compliance Lead Counsel at Stora Enso. “We believe that promoting a wider ethical approach helps us enhance our good reputation and succeed in business as a reliable partner, in both the short and the long term.”

Benefits for everyone

With its domicile in Finland, Stora Enso is subject to EU legislation including the EU Competition Law that sets the frames for conducting business with competitors targeting the same markets. “The objectives of competition law are to protect businesses and consumers against anti-competitive behaviour – and eventually create a wider choice for consumers. This helps to reduce prices, and improve the quality of products and services,” explains Selderman.

But can high standards of business ethics be guaranteed throughout a global corporation with more than 25 000 employees?

“Business ethics dilemmas are encountered in everyday business and decision-making situations, and our starting point is to create a working environment where they can be openly discussed. We also need to ensure that our employees are well-trained and know how to act if they encounter someone breaching the limits,” adds Selderman.

One of the most serious types of competition law violation concerns the formation of cartels, through which two or more companies agree to fix prices artificially high or low, or share confidential information that gives them an unfair advantage. Another kind of infringement may occur when a company with a dominant market share abuses its position by imposing unfair trading conditions on its suppliers or customers.

At Stora Enso, employees whose work involves buying, selling or strategic decision-making are those most exposed to competition law risks. “Typical situations where our employees have been trained to take great care include activities within trade associations, which serve as a forum for contacts between competitors, and therefore present potential competition risks. Our employees are also urged to speak up if they ever encounter competitors exchanging information on competitively sensitive information formally or informally.”

Training for all employees

Competition law violations may occur in any market, though risks are generally higher in less complex and more stable markets dominated by a few companies with high market shares. Stora Enso’s employees consistently apply the same rules and requirements wherever they work around the world.

“All employees working for Stora Enso must commit to our Code of Conduct in everything they do – and they all receive related training during their first months with us,” explains Selderman. “In-depth training on antitrust and competition laws and anti-corruption measures is mandatory for all members of our Group Leadership Team, for divisional and mill management teams, and for all employees dealing with competitor contacts, purchasing, marketing, and sales.”

Stora Enso runs a detailed competition law training programme, while the company’s Ethics and Compliance team also continuously supports employees by advising them how to comply with competition law.

“Competition law has lately been very high on European Commission’s agenda, as well as on our own business ethics agenda. We are highly committed to free and open competition on the market,” emphasises Selderman.

And what is the next trend that companies need to address in terms of fair competition? “Going forward, digitalisation is increasing competition on the markets, and requires us to continuously improve our offerings. At the same time, we need to better understand where digitalisation may have implications with regard to competition law,” explains Selderman.

“Business ethics is an area where we can always improve. It benefits everyone – us, our competitors, our customers, our suppliers, and eventually consumers – if business and competition function openly with no illegal or unfair restrictions.”