It is recommended that franchise agreements clearly foresee how to solve and deal with potential conflicts. The relationship between franchisor and franchisee may have some difficulty due, for example, to the absence of specific regulation of its content (at least in Spain) and to the fact that its elements are contained in different pieces of legislation. What I will say in these posts could also be useful for other distribution contracts, or in general collaboration agreements, although I will focus on franchising due to its special characteristics.
Conflicts between franchisees and franchisors can cover multiple legal and commercial aspects: product supplies, brands, know-how, exclusivity and territory, non-competition, promotion and advertising, sales through the Internet … And all this, in a context in which, frequently, both parties want to maintain their collaboration and good relations.
How to face, then, these potential conflicts? A first step is usually the direct negotiation between the parties and their advisers who have the task of being useful to them in this purpose. But this does not always end with a positive result. And the almost natural step if this happens is usually the beginning of a judicial procedure often preceded by a series of previous formal requirements.
However, there is a way that, taking into account the characteristic elements of the franchise contract and the nature of possible conflicts, can be an excellent and privileged alternative method to solve them: mediation. Let’s see why:
- In mediation there is no third party that imposes its decision on the conflict. The franchisor and the franchisee solve it by themselves with the help of a professional (the mediator) who, in a neutral and independent way, uses their skills and specifically acquired knowledge (help in identifying the interests of the parties, active listening, legitimacy …) so that both can reach a consensus. The mediator does not advise (the parties can go with their respective advisors), it does not decide or sentence, but it helps that the parties find the solution that most satisfies both: they better than anyone else know the business, its evolution, the aspects perhaps not foreseen in the contract and the future that they want for themselves.
- Mediation is a harmonized mode of dispute resolution in the European Union through the Directive on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters. This allows the parties in different Member States to be familiar with it, therefore it is possible to foresee a unified system in contracts with international parties, and it will be easier to enforce the agreements reached.
- Mediation allows, therefore, to satisfy both parties better than the judicial alternative and with more creative solutions that a judge will never be able to apply. Unlike a legal proceeding where one usually wins and another loses, mediation can bring together the interests of franchisees and franchisors and, in this way, both obtain a better response. It allows a less belligerent and more friendly format that can be very useful since in many cases the disputes do not have too much entity to go to court, or refer to non-essential aspects of the relationship, or can be addressed from more global perspectives or with references to objective parameters. In addition, frequently, franchisees and franchisors want to continue maintaining their commercial relationship and, through mediation, resolved the conflict, this will be possible (unthinkable, however, if they had initiated a judicial confrontation).
- Mediation is, in principle, voluntary. At any time, the parties can abandon it even in those Member States or conflicts for which it may be mandatory to attend at least to the information session.
- It is a method that easily adapts to the characteristics of both parties: it is very flexible with the formalities, and the franchisor and the franchisee are who, with the help of the mediator, design a large part of the procedure to arrive at a solution being able to control its evolution. It also allows a solution that is much more adapted to their specific situation, provides more imaginative solution ideas, allows better dialogue, maintains the relationship, distinguishes facts from opinions or judgments, and allows the parties to return to their business saving energies that would otherwise be devoted to conflict management.
- It is a faster procedure than a trial, with a cost that can be assumed and controlled in advance.
- Mediation is confidential, so the publicity of the conflict is reduced, avoiding reputation costs or by extending to the rest of the network. What is treated in a mediation procedure cannot be disclosed even in a subsequent judicial proceeding.
- Both parties can arrive at a solution that will be binding for them. In addition, even if no agreement is reached, with the mediation the parties are in a better position to continue the relationship and resolve their problems: they have been able to present their points of view, they have been heard and have listened, they have opened dialogue channels, they have been able to show greater flexibility and, in short, they have improved their relations as a requirement to end the conflict and reach agreements.
- The degree of compliance with conflicts resolved through mediation is much higher than those imposed by a judge since the agreements are more satisfactory for them and it has been the parties themselves who have decided what to do.
- And finally, if the mediation has not worked, the possibility of claiming in the courts remains open.