The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is calling for more whistle-blowers to expose business cartels with the launch of a national awareness campaign. It comes as new research shows many firms in the East don’t know enough about how to comply with competition law.
The CMA's latest cartel awareness campaign aims to educate businesses about which practices are illegal and urges people to come forward if they suspect a business has taken part in cartel behaviour, such as fixing prices or rigging contracts.
Research released by the CMA this week shows that of companies surveyed in the East:
- Only 44% knew that fixing prices could lead to imprisonment.
- Nearly half either didn’t know or thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work (25% said ‘don’t know’, and 20% actually thought it was legal).
- Significantly more than half (63%) didn’t know or thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal (41% said ‘don’t know’ and 22% actually thought it was legal).
Cartels cheat customers out of a fair deal by forcing prices up, reducing quality, choice and innovation.
Jason Freeman, a Director at the CMA and regional champion for the East of England said: “Businesses that make non-competitive agreements with competitors are breaking the law and cheating customers out of a fair deal. It’s important that businesses in the East take the time to understand what the law says and how to comply – the repercussions of falling foul are just not work the risk.”
The campaign is targeting industries including construction, manufacturing, recruitment, estate agents and property management and maintenance. These are sectors identified as particularly susceptible to cartels. Previous campaigns have driven a 30% rise in the number of tip-offs to the CMA’s cartels hotline.
Since April 2015 it has issued over £155m in fines following investigations into anti-competitive practices and it is currently investigating 15 cases including in construction services, roofing materials and estate agency.
Examples of CMA action include:
- Two of the biggest suppliers of charcoal and coal for households in the UK were fined £3.4m for taking part in a market sharing cartel.
- Water tank firms were fined over £2.6 million, after they formed a cartel to divide up customers, fix minimum prices and share commercially sensitive information for tanks used in large construction projects (such as schools and hospitals)
- Somerset estate agents were fined over £370,000 for fixing minimum commission rates, such that local home owners had been denied a fair deal when selling their property. The CMA also secured the disqualification of two company directors in this case.
Visit www.gov.uk/stopcartels to learn more.