Competition watchdog launches cartel campaign

01 November 2018

Author: Kerry Teahan
Practice Area: EU and Competition

Price_fixing

The UK’s competition and consumer watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has launched a cartel awareness campaign after its research has demonstrated that many UK companies don’t know enough about their obligations under competition law.

Research conducted on behalf of the CMA indicated the following, possibly surprising, results.

Out of the 1,201 companies surveyed:

  • only 57% knew price fixing was illegal;
  • nearly half either didn’t know or thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work (23% said ‘don’t know’, and 25% actually thought it was legal); and
  • significantly more than half (59%) didn’t know or thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal (24% said ‘don’t know’ and 35% actually thought it was legal).

The CMA has reacted to these results by launching its campaign carrying the slogans “Be Safe, Not Sorry” and “Do What’s Right – help us stop business cartels”, which has appeared on websites and social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. The campaign urges people involved in cartels to contact the CMA. For those directly involved, they can apply for leniency and potentially avoid fines and other sanctions. For others, there are potential financial rewards for individuals who have seen and report cartel activity. As well as these messages, the campaign website includes straightforward, easy to understand videos and infographics on different types of cartel, including price fixing, market sharing and bid rigging, as well as a new online reporting form and guidance on how to report an issue to the CMA. More information is available at www.gov.uk/stopcartels.

The CMA continues to step-up its enforcement action in the UK and, since April 2015, has issued over £155 million in fines. This latest campaign is focused primarily on the construction, manufacturing, recruitment, estate agency and property management/maintenance sectors.

Robert Stewart, the CMA’s representative for Northern Ireland, said:

“Competition law exists to protect customers, including other businesses, from being ripped off. When followed, the law maintains a level playing field in Northern Ireland.

“Business in Northern Ireland need to be educated and checking their practices, to make sure they are obeying the law – the penalties for not doing so can be severe, so it’s better to be safe, not sorry.

“That’s why we’re launching this campaign – to help people understand more about what cartels look like, and what they can do if they think they’ve seen one. Our message is: Do what’s right and tell us about it first.”

This latest campaign is not by any means a “new” message but is a clear indication that the CMA is ramping up its investigations across the UK, and Northern Ireland is not escaping the CMA’s attention.

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