understanding mlm business: legal status in India

People might have some doubts in their mind about Network Marketing whether it is illegal or not, when it became legal, and more. You can clarify your doubts with this article with detailed information. 
MLM businesses have significant attention from people in recent years. It provides the opportunity for individuals to become independent entrepreneurs by selling products or services and recruiting into the network. However, the legality of MLM businesses has been a trending topic of debate in various countries, including India.  

In this article, we will explore the concept of MLM, its legal status in India, and the relevant laws and regulations surrounding this business model.

What is an MLM Business?

Multi-level marketing, also known as network marketing or pyramid selling, is a marketing strategy where the sales force is compensated not only for the sales they generate but also for the sales made by the individuals they recruit. It involves a hierarchical structure where each member has the potential to earn commissions and bonuses based on their sales performance and the performance of their downline members.


  • MLM stands for Multi-Level Marketing. 

  • It is a business model where individuals can become independent distributors and earn commissions based on their sales and the sales of their recruited downline members. 

  • MLM businesses operate through a hierarchical structure, where distributors earn income not only from their sales but also from the sales made by those they recruit. 

  • The primary focus of an MLM business is the sale of products or services to end consumers. 

  • MLM companies often offer training, support, and marketing materials to their distributors to help them promote and sell their products. 

  • The compensation structure in MLM typically includes various levels or tiers, with distributors earning different percentages of commission based on their position within the hierarchy. 

  • MLM businesses often encourage distributors to recruit new members to expand their network and increase their earning potential.

Legal Status of MLM in India

To understand the legal status of MLM in India, it is essential to examine the laws and regulations governing this industry. The primary legislation that addresses MLM businesses in India is the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, of 1978. This act aims to prohibit the promotion and operation of schemes that involve the circulation of money through various schemes or plans, often referred to as "money circulation schemes."

The Act defines a money circulation scheme as any scheme, by whatever name called, for the making of quick or easy money, or the receipt of any money or valuable thing as the consideration for a promise to pay money, on any event or contingency relative or applicable to the enrolment of members into the scheme. In essence, it seeks to curb fraudulent schemes that promise high returns without a genuine product or service being involved.

However, it is important to note that not all MLM businesses fall under the purview of the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, of 1978. If an MLM business involves the genuine sale of products or services and the participants are primarily compensated based on the sale of those products or services rather than recruitment, it may be considered legal.

The Legal Precedent: Amway Case

The legal status of MLM in India gained clarity through a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in the case of Amway India Enterprises v. Union of India (2004). This case provided guidelines for distinguishing legitimate MLM businesses from illegal money circulation schemes.

The Supreme Court held that an MLM scheme would be considered legal if it satisfies the following criteria:

1. Presence of a genuine product or service

The presence of a genuine product or service is a crucial aspect of an MLM business. It means that the MLM Company should offer tangible products or valuable services that have intrinsic value. These products or services should be something that consumers would genuinely be interested in purchasing even without the income opportunity associated with the MLM business.

2. Emphasis on actual sales

A legitimate MLM business model should primarily focus on product sales to end consumers, rather than recruitment. This means that distributors should earn commissions based on their personal sales volume and the sales volume of their downline distributors. Distributors should actively engage in selling products or services to customers outside of the MLM network. The majority of their income should come from these retail sales. 

3. No quick or easy money promise

MLM businesses should avoid making false promises of quick or easy money without genuine efforts in selling the products or services. MLM companies should provide realistic expectations about the income potential, emphasizing the importance of hard work, dedication, and building a customer base. MLM companies should refrain from using misleading or exaggerated income claims to entice potential distributors. They should provide accurate information about the effort, time, and skills required to succeed in the business.

4. Reasonable buyback policy

A reasonable buyback policy ensures that distributors have the option to return unsold inventory to the MLM Company for a refund or repurchase. This policy protects distributors from financial losses and prevents inventory loading. The buyback policy safeguards distributors from being stuck with excess inventory that they are unable to sell. It provides them with an opportunity to return unsold products and recover their investment.

Based on these guidelines, the Supreme Court held that Amway's business model was legitimate as it satisfied the requirements of a genuine MLM business. This case served as a precedent for future legal interpretations and helped establish a framework for determining the legality of MLM businesses in India. 
MLM businesses can operate legally in India if they adhere to the guidelines established by the Supreme Court. The legal framework seeks to protect consumers from fraudulent money circulation schemes while allowing legitimate MLM businesses to thrive. MLM companies and participants need to understand and comply with the laws and regulations to ensure a fair and sustainable business environment.

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07 Jun



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