India: The Business Opportunity – an important new handbook

Our colleague Linda Spedding, an international lawyer who is responsible for our Indian contract templates, has published an informative book on Indian business law and regulation.  India: The Business Opportunity is a practical and legal handbook for anyone wanting to invest in the country.

 

Edited by Linda, with chapters contributed by experts on their particular subject and a foreword by India’s foreign minister, a recent review for the UK-India Business Council says it encompasses nearly every existing law and regulation necessary to set up or run a business there, entry strategies and investment regulations, raising finance, taxation, dispute settlement, arbitration, environment, labour, competition, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, competition, cyber laws, etc. It also has guidance on corporate governance,  procedures for compliances and risk management. Altogether, it is a comprehensive and unique publication to help any new or existing investor with almost every aspect of business law in the way.

You can read the full review here

The book is available from Wildy’s  in the UK

ContractStore’s contract templates for business in India can be found here

A Guide to the Modern Slavery Act for Your Business

Modern Slavery Act 2015

The question that many supporters of anti-trafficking movements may be asking – Does the new Modern Slavery Act (2015) go far enough to ensure that corporates maintain a transparent supply chain?

The new Modern Slavery Act (2015) will apply to all commercial organisations who carry on business or part of a business in the UK.

Author: Sharon Benning-Prince

Regulations under the Act – expected to be implemented in October 2015 – will require those with turnover above a yet-to-be-determined threshold to produce an annual statement for each financial year, under the so-called ‘Transparency in supply chain provisions‘.

Current reports suggest that a turnover threshold of around £36-40 million is likely.

It looks likely that organisations with turnover over this threshold will have to produce their first statement by the end of the current financial year. The Government has indicated it will publish compliance guidance in the next few months.

The Act introduces two main offences:

  • servitude or forced labour
  • arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view that a person is being exploited

Section 54: Companies Must Publish a A Statement

  • Section 54 of the Act will require every large business to publish an annual statement setting out the steps the business has taken during the year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the business itself, or in its supply chain.
  • The statement must be published on the business’s website.
  • The obligation to publish a statement applies to businesses which carry on any part of their business in the UK and which “supply goods or services” (essentially, all trading companies and partnerships).
  • The statement must be approved by the board of directors and signed by a director (in the case of companies), approved by the LLP members and signed by a designated member (in the case of LLPs), and signed by a general partner (in the case of limited partnerships).
  • Overseas conduct will be included, and will be deemed as if the offence had taken place in the UK.

Preparing the Statement
If a company is caught within threshold, the basic requirement is to produce a statement confirming:

  • the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in your business, or in any supply chain

or

  • declare that you have taken no steps to confirm the existence of slavery or trafficking. This approach may place a company’s ethical position into question and affect its reputation, so it is expected many companies would prefer not to take this option.

The Act does not specify the exact steps that a business must take in relation to supply chain transparency, and there is no prescribed form of transparency statement. However, the Act suggests that the statement “may” include the following:

  • brief description of your organisation’s business model and supply chain relationships
  • your organisation’s policies relating to modern slavery including due diligence processes and the training available/provided for those in supply change management and the rest of the organisation
  • the parts of the business and supply chain most at risk in the organisation and how the organisation evaluates and manages those risks
  • relevant key performance indicators which would allow a reader to assess the effectiveness of the activity described in the statement.

Publication
The homepage of your website must contain:

  1. a prominent link to the statement, which must be approved by the board and signed by a director
  2. homepages of both the parent company and any subsidiary websites
  3. if the company does not have a website it must provide a copy of the statement within 30 days to anyone who requests it

Application / Jurisdiction

  • a company/partnership over a certain size
  • that supplies goods or services
  • and carries on a business or part of a business in the UK

Implications
The Act itself imposes no legally binding requirements to conduct due diligence on supply chains. And there is some flexibility regarding the content of the statement, as companies may find it difficult to compile all the relevant information. The Government has framed Section 54 in such a way as to leave it open to businesses themselves to determine how best to comply with its requirements, and how far they should go in identifying where any risks may lie – and how to tackle them.

The Government has also made it clear that it expects each business to take an appropriate and proportionate approach, based on the nature of its business and the industry sector.

What should you be doing now?
Companies should assess whether they are caught by these requirements. For some this will be straightforward, while others will need to decide on an entity-by-entity basis once the turnover threshold is published. Even if your turnover is lower than the threshold, it may be good for a company reputation to follow some of the guidance and recommended procedures to build customer confidence.

If your company is likely to be affected then you could:

  • start assessing current levels of information on your supply chains. The company will need to start engaging with its direct and indirect suppliers, and set up due diligence systems to obtain reliable information
  • draft and implement a policy on slavery and trafficking
  • assess the need for training within your organisation, and your supply chains, on human rights compliance
  • incorporate anti-slavery and trafficking obligations (and related policies) into procurement agreements, and require similar obligations to be incorporated into any sub-contracting arrangements
  • review your supplier due diligence processes to incorporate procedures that identify modern slavery and trafficking risks.

Will it work?
At this time, it seems that any process that seeks to address trafficking and forced labour issues are to be welcomed. However there are no criminal or financial penalties for non-compliance, and that is an area that could be reconsidered. In order to ensure that companies comply with the Act and comply properly and ethically, there should be some element of financial penalty.

Notwithstanding the lack of penalty, any company that is deemed not to be adhering to the Act may suffer detriment from a reputation perspective, and this in itself may be enough of an incentive for both companies that fall within the threshold, and those that don’t, to comply with Section 54 properly.

Further Reading

How to Find and Motivate Great Agents and Distributors

How to get started with exporting

Ebook available to download from ContractStore

Simon Bedford, author of Exporting Made Easy, gives guidance on working with agents and distributors, ahead of the upcoming UKTI Export Week, 18-22 May

Why use an agent or distributor?
The appointment of an overseas agent or distributor can be a quick and low cost way to open up a new international market. However, there are many questions about the timing, how to find the right person, their role and responsibilities and how to motivate them to perform consistently well over the medium and longer term.

Our man in…
Companies can start exporting directly without using a “middleman”. They can simply travel to the market, having carried out some research, and try to book the orders. However, after a short time there is a realisation that a local man on the ground in the form of an agent or distributor can bring results more quickly and this is a continuous point of contact for you and your customers.

Companies usually know whether they require a purely commission agent or need a distributor who can stock products locally in the market. As the export of services from the UK has expanded rapidly in recent years and there is no tangible product to stock so an agent is all that is required.

Ensuring good relationships
If an agent is performing well, there should be a good relationship and communication between the customer, the agent and of course, the exporter.
The agent is simply identifying and ‘warming’ up the customer in return for an agreed commission.

The alternative, is for an exporter of products to supply and invoice the distributor who will hold stock, add his mark-up and in turn sell to the end customer. The distributor may well regard the customer as their client and therefore not be keen to allow the exporter to build any relationship.

Finding the right agent and distributor
There are many ways to identify good agents and distributors. This can be via other companies operating in the sector, exhibitions, trade associations, the internet and social media or via UK Trade & Investment, as this is a service we regularly offer from the British Embassy network worldwide.

What to look out for
Agent and distributors usual immediately ask for exclusivity. Be cautious, consider a trial period, and do not offer too large a territory. In a vast country such as the USA, China or India one agent is unlikely to have the capacity to cover more than a part of the country or region. If offering a region covering several countries again be careful; even if he has the ability, start with a limited area and see how it develops – much easier to expand than contract the territory; and always be specific – don’t, for example, refer to the Middle East but instead specify which countries are covered.

What motivates them?
Finally motivation. If we put ourselves in the shoes of an agent or distributor we can understand the factors that they would find motivational. Sales and profit, of course, but support particularly in the first year to establish the product or service in the market, and regular communication to ensure there is an understanding of how the business is developing.

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About the Author

Simon Bedford of SGB Associates (UK) Ltd, provides export training workshops,  consultancy, and international marketing through UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) since 2004. He has supported over 500 businesses to get started with exporting and is the author of Exporting Made Easy, a straightforward guide that is available in print at a new discounted price (£5.99 + P&P) or as an ebook (£4.99) from ExportingMadeEasy.com

Doing Business in Russia

Companies regularly consider their plans for growth of their business and one of the main possibilities for growth is expansion to new markets.  Interviews of management of different foreign companies and recent global surveys show that the overwhelming majority of such companies are considering entering the Russian market as one of their top priorities.  In general, Russia is an attractive market for foreign investors.

However, the high profit expectations which Russia offers are often coupled with suspicious attitudes towards the Russian partners and Russian legal system, which, together with political factors, often outweigh the perceived benefits of investing in Russia’s rapidly developing economy.  This article is intended to briefly address some of the concerns related to Russian business partners and the Russian legal system.  We will attempt to take inside knowledge and experience of Russian legal and business reality and analyze it from the standpoint of a foreign businessman, providing you a myth-free picture of the legal perspectives of doing business in Russia.

Trading with Russia. Image from Wikipedia

There are plenty of good trade opportunities with Russia despite many foreigners’ concerns

The Legal System

The current Russian legal system still in its infancy.  For over 70 years, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia had a command economy, state controlled commerce and recognized no private ownership.  What did business look like at that time?  The State prepared a plan, which was obligatory and which already prescribed what goods could be produced, whom they could be sold to and at what price.  There was actually no place for negotiations and, consequently, no established market practice and space for development of the legal system although, even in those days, civil relations were regulated by the Civil Code of the USSR.

In 1994 the current Civil Code of the Russian Federation was adopted.  It is the main source of civil and corporate law in Russia.  There are also a number of other normative acts (Federal Laws are the main part of them) which regulate different business issues. There are many articles on the internet on the differences between the Russian legal system and common law (hence no need to name them in this short article) and probably the main one is that Russian law does not recognize precedent when interpreting provisions of the Civil Code and other Federal Laws.  However, recent developments in the Russian legal system show that more and more features of common law are being adopted.  Moreover, within the last few years Russian law has taken a big, but as yet informal, step in the direction of common law – the significance of previous court decisions and especially decisions of the higher courts has increased, so that such decisions are usually treated as binding for other Russian courts dealing with similar disputes. We believe that if this tendency continues (and we do not see any obstacles for it to happen), it will help to build confidence in the Russian system among foreign investors and Russian businessmen.

Entering the Market

The other source of problems faced by foreign investors and a lot of Russian business people which often causes misunderstandings is miscommunication.   Even today a number of Russian companies are managed by people who started their professional career in Soviet times.  Lack of background experience, education in the command economy, suspicion of their partners are some of the characteristics which make some Russian partners behave in an unpredictable manner.  Thus, if a foreign investor is planning to enter the Russian market, it can be a good idea to have someone (a manager, lawyer, whoever) who is capable of building a bridge of mutual understanding between the Russian partner and the foreign investor. And once this bridge is built, you can have confidence in your partner.

We also believe it may be useful to focus on some legal aspects of doing business in Russia: establishment of a legal presence, regulatory framework, taxation, repatriation of profits (exchange controls) and consideration of potential dispute.

Establishing a Legal Presence in Russia

Your legal presence in Russia can be established in the form of an entity  – LLC (limited liability company) or  JSC (joint stock company) or in the form of the branch or representative office.  Each form has its own advantages and disadvantages, but around 90% of foreign companies working in Russia are set up as an LLC (in some cases only an LLC or JSC will allow you to conduct business operations and get a licence if this is needed for your activities).

To register an LLC you will need to prepare a set of documents which has to be submitted to the tax office which serves the location chosen for your business.  You will also need to open a bank account and find premises for your office and verify some documents before a notary.  Registration of an LLC usually takes no more than 5-7 business days and you will then get a set of documentation confirming state registration of your business.  In general, this process is not too complicated, but, as in any country, there are some peculiarities and we recommend that you engage local lawyers to guide you through the process.

Repatriation of Profits and Exchange Controls

One important topic for a foreign investor is the possibility of repatriation of profits and the related exchange control laws.  Usually, repatriation of profits is made in a variety of ways: payments of intercompany invoices, royalties, dividends or  interest under a loan agreement – for your particular business needs tax you should contact your tax advisor.  If certain conditions are met (usually, this involves the total amount of money to be transferred) you may be required to open a special file with your bank and attach a contract between the concerned companies which serves as the justification for such money transfer. This is quite a simple procedure and usually companies do not experience any difficulties.

Licensing

If your business requires a licence (e.g. if you sell alcohol) or any other authorization (e.g. if you conduct construction activities), you will be able to apply once your legal presence is registered.  Russia has quite detailed procedures for obtaining a licence/authorization and, so long as you follow it carefully, it should usually be granted within 1-2 months. If your licence/authorization is for some reasons declined, there is a possibility to challenge this in court – the state Arbitration court.

Court System

Having mentioned the possibility of a dispute in the courts, we will very briefly focus on the Russian court system insofar as it affects commercial disputes.  This consists of state courts – known as the arbitrazhniy courts – which consider commercial disputes, an IP court for intellectual property cases established in 2013, mediation and commercial arbitration.

Usually parties to a dispute will choose between a state court (e.g. Arbitrazhniy Court of Moscow) and commercial arbitration (e.g. the International Commercial  Arbitration  Court at the RF Chamber of Commerce and Industry).  In our view, both options are fine as decision of both courts can be enforced in Russia, at the same time it is more likely that only decisions of the ICAC can be enforced overseas in countries that are signatories to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958) (the “New York Convention”). However, proceedings in a commercial arbitration court (e.g. ICAC) in general are far more expensive than in the state court.  Thus, in our view, a decision on which to choose needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis depending on the particular circumstances of each case.

Mediation, a way of resolving disputes without recourse to a judge or arbitrator, is also possible in Russia, which enacted a federal law of mediation in 2011.

Current International Sanctions

While reading this you may wonder whether these processes are affected by the current political situation, with tension and sanctions between Russia and a number of foreign states.  In general, this has of course brought some obstacles, especially in oil & gas, financing and the food industry (prohibition of import of certain food products to Russia), but even in these industries some of the obstacles can be mitigated.  And if your business is small or medium and is not connected with these spheres of activity, we do not believe that it will be affected by the current political situation.

To conclude this short introduction to business in Russia, we would like to say that the worries described above as well as others that you may read in the media, while sometimes based on real evidence, are exaggerated and business in Russia is still worth doing.  This is especially true if a foreign investor in a Russian business undertakes intensive preparatory work so as to protect itself from the unique Russian problems and risks described above.  The thousands of foreign companies that come to Russia every year and the numbers of newly opened Russian businesses are quickly realizing that most of the problems are manageable.

Author Profile

Nikolay is a Russian in-house lawyer living in Moscow. He has been dealing with foreign business since 2005 and has participated in a number of projects which have included the full-scale legal support and management of start-up projects in Russia. Nikolay has experience in the organization and management of businesses in Russia and believes that his core goal as a lawyer is to bridge the gap between the reality in Russia and foreign perceptions, by providing high quality legal services and business consulting. Nikolay is responsible for the Russian section of the ContractStore –  see them at contractstore.com/russiancontracts

What You Need to Know about Distributor & Reseller Agreements

 If you want to increase sales in a new area whether in your own country or overseas, there are two principal methods, apart from setting up a branch of your business there.  One is to appoint an agent who will promote your goods and find buyers for you.  The other is to appoint a distributor or reseller who will buy your products and then resell them in his territory.

 Once you have decided on the territory that you want to cover, you will need to find a suitable candidate to resell your products.  This is not an easy task and it certainly needs to be undertaken with care, and plenty of due diligence. There is advice on how to go about this in Exporting Made Easy , a book that I have co-written and it is available online at www.exporting-made-easy.com

Once you have selected your distributor, be sure to have a written agreement with him setting out the terms of the deal which allows you to bring the arrangement to an end if things do not work out satisfactorily. You should also get local legal advice before signing an agreement because there could be local laws which you need to take into account – for example, it might be necessary for a distributor to be owned by nationals of the country.

 Set out below are some of the main issues that you need to consider and to cover in your distributorship agreement.

Specify the products and the territory

if you have more than one product line, it may be sensible to restrict the agreement to one or two lines initially to see how things go. You can always add more products later. As for the territory, this needs to be clearly defined. 

Exclusive or Non-exclusive

Are you going to appoint the distributor on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis – i.e.will he be the only person in that territory who is entitled to sell your products. Even if you agree to an exclusive arrangement, you might want to reserve some existing customers to deal with direct, in which case cover this in the agreement.

Duration

What is the initial term of the agreement?   Make it long enough to give the distributor time to get established and into the market with your products, but no longer. It can then be renewable yearly if things work out.

Orders, Prices and Payment

The agreement should set out the arrangements for ordering products as well as prices and payment terms.   Depending on the nature of your business, it can be useful to have forward estimates of orders so that you will have sufficient stock to meet the distributor’s requirements.

It is usual to specify that each order which is accepted constitutes a separate contract between the two parties and that the sales are made on your standard terms and conditions.  You might want to attach a copy of these to the agreement.

There will probably be a schedule setting out the prices of the various products and this could include some trade discounts depending on volume etc.

As for payment terms, you do not want any more exposure than is necessary. Payment prior to shipment is one possibility and another is to have the distributor set up a confirmed irrevocable letter of credit.

It is not normally lawful to fix the resale prices that your distributor will charge so there is always a risk that he will offer your products at a lower price than another distributor.

  Sales Targets. 

You should certainly include some agreed sales targets in the agreement because this allows you to monitor the distributor’s performance. Coupled with the sales targets should be a provision that not only allows you to revise the targets but also entitles you to bring the contract to an end if, for example, minimum targets are not achieved for two or three consecutive quarters.

 General Obligations

It is sensible to identify what marketing material and technical data you will provide and if training of the distributor’s sales staff is needed.  You may also want to have terms that require the distributor to have a marketing budget, to report on sales on a regular basis etc.

 Intellectual property

Make sure that you protect your copyright, patents and trademarks. Your distributor should only be allowed to use them while the agreement remains in place and it is sensible to have a clause which requires him to notify you and to act to protect your interests if, for example, counterfeit goods appear in the market in his territory.

Termination

Always include a clause that allows you to bring the contract to an end if the distributor fails to meet his targets or commits some other breach of contract or becomes insolvent.   Terminating an agreement of this type in some countries might  lead to substantial compensation claims so you need to take legal advice before finalising the wording.

Non-competition and Confidentiality

You may want a clause that prevents the distributor from selling any products that compete with your own both during the agreement and, perhaps, for a period after it has come to an end. In addition, you will probably want to be sure that the terms of the agreement are kept confidential.

Dispute resolution and Governing Law

While you might want English law to apply and any disputes to be dealt with in the English courts, if the distributor is based overseas and has no assets in this country, getting a judgement and then enforcing it against him might prove rather difficult.  An international arbitration clause could well be preferable and we have some free information on our website concerning this topic.

Our template for appointing a distributor can be found here http://www.contractstore.com/A117-distributorship-agreement