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Consumer Trends 2022: Horizon scanning - a challenge for legal teams

11 January 2022

From the tsunami of COVID and Brexit legislation to the growth of ESG and supply chain governance, horizon scanning for the next regulatory challenge has never been more important.

When we look back at the last 2 years, we may remark about how 'fortunate' we were to have lived through multiple generational events occurring at the same time. At the moment however, that reflection is difficult to appreciate as we struggle to find ways adapt and stay up to date in an ever-changing legal and business environment. From the COVID pandemic through political events, such as Brexit and the trade war with China, to the rise of the multifaceted topic of ESG - a tsunami of regulation has been unleashed. Relentless and significant changes have made it increasingly difficult to plan and know with certainty what the future will hold. It is not surprising that clients are telling us that they struggle to stay up to date and see what's coming next.

Some of the key challenges businesses are facing:

COVID uncertainty

We know that 2022 will bring more COVID legislation and change, perhaps this will mean no face coverings in stores, perhaps it means legal requires for vaccination, testing and COVID certificates being legally required in all states. Perhaps the UK will follow Germany's 3G rules which means only (1) vaccinated ("Geimpft"), (2) recovered ("Genesen") or (3) tested ("Getestet") persons (including members of the management) may enter the workplace. What we know is that these changes are quick, sometimes without consultation and leave business trying to find a common solution even within one nation, making it is difficult to stay on top of things.

Circular economy change

COVID is not the only show in town. Across the EU there is a range of circular economy legislation, particularly around plastics, coming into force that will require implementation plus various local member state requirements around recycling and product labelling to be considered. Many of these are being implemented as Directives, so that means 27 versions of the law will be implemented. That is before we get into the non-financial reporting obligations, such as nature disclosures that flow from ESG. This impacts many areas of a business and staying on top of everything of this could be a full time job!

Supply chain regulation

We have seen an increase in regulation focusing on the supply chain, and requiring businesses to look carefully at how they discharges duties, with modern slavery and other supply chain verification legislation coming into force in Germany. Additionally, the Unfair Trading Practices Directive being brought in across the EU, introduces measures much like the UK's GSCOP that will impact anyone trading in food in the EU, whether they are a member state or not.

Product safety regulation

We're experiencing change in respect of product safety regulation with both the EU and UK considering new rules. There is a groundswell of opinion in respect of duties on online marketplaces and recasting safety laws which will impact a range of clients. While the detail is yet to be announced, the direction of travel and pro-consumer lobbying appears clear. Both sides of the debate need to ensure that their voices are heard now before that direction of travel becomes a policy set in stone.

Brexit regulatory changes

Regulatory changes flowing from Brexit will start to impact businesses in earnest in 2022. This will likely be the year that the divergence from EU law becomes more pronounced and more obvious, and nowhere will this be more obvious than in Northern Ireland. In parallel, we will start to see the UK Government accelerate its legislative proposals flowing from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform independent report or the more recent Brexit Opportunities Unit. While there may be some challenge and cost from these changes, there may also be significant chance for businesses to take advantage and find new opportunities in the UK market.

So how can you stay on top of it all?

Be heard

Whatever happens, the pace of change will continue to be vast and relentless through 2022. There has never been a more important time to have your ear to the ground, scanning the horizon for that next big thing. It also has never been more important to make the most of all available sources of information and in particular make sure your voice is heard during relevant consultations – whether formal or informal. While in the past relying on a trade association response was a good solution, the scale and significance of some of the changes means that you also need to share your opinion, clearly and specifically at the outset and direct communication is the best way for this. More than ever it is a time for Legal and Public Affairs to work together. If you wait for the policy to be set, or the law published, then the chances are it will be too late to change direction materially and at best minor adjustments may be all that is possible. Early and effective engagement is key, quite literally: horizon scanning.

Stay up to date

Horizon scanning can be challenging - with considerable noise to cut through in order to find out what you need to do. How can you stay up to date and ensure that you have all of the necessary information to make strategic decisions? One option is to sign up to our RAG rated weekly regulatory update, to keep up to date with key regulatory issues and developments.

Often you will also need something more specific and granular. Our Mindcrest team provide solutions for a range of big businesses that allow them to stay on top of key issues and regulatory requirements, whether it is awareness of changes across 10 jurisdictions on one topic or a deeper dive on what is upcoming on a particular regulatory topic, we are working with household brands in the consumer sector to design and create bespoke knowledge solutions to help them stay up to date with the legal change which is most important to their business. If you would like to explore how we can assist you contact us at consumer@dwf.law

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