Managing Association Joint Purchasing Programs without Violating the Antitrust Laws: Lessons from a DOJ Business Review Letter

Trade and professional associations (“associations”) frequently sponsor joint purchasing arrangements on behalf of their members. These programs offer numerous potential benefits, including centralized ordering, volume discounts, efficient warehouse or distribution, and access to products or services at short notice, among other benefits. Although popular with members, joint purchasing programs also can expose the association (and individual members) to potential antitrust risk.

This article provides an overview of joint purchasing along with best practices for associations looking to help members obtain the potential cost savings and other benefits of joint purchasing while minimizing antitrust risk.

What Is Joint Purchasing?

Defined broadly, joint purchasing involves collaboration among competitors to purchase product inputs and services. Association joint purchasing programs come in many different shapes and sizes; in some, the association simply handles administration of the program, while in others, the association acts as purchasing agent for its members. Some joint purchasing involves product inputs, while others involve the purchase of services. No matter the structure of the purchasing program, associations must take care to avoid running afoul of antitrust laws.

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