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CMA sends tough message to business cheats

Monday 22 October 2018

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is calling for more whistle-blowers to expose business cartels with the launch of a new national campaign.

The latest cartel awareness campaign, which launched today, 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.

It comes as new research shows many firms don’t know enough about how to comply with competition law.

ICM research released by the CMA today to coincide with the campaign shows that of the 1,200 businesses surveyed, only 57 per cent knew it was illegal to fix prices, and nearly half either didn’t know or thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work. Perhaps more significantly, 59 per cent either didn’t know or thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal.

The research did find, however, that businesses want to do the right thing, despite not fully understanding the law. Nine in 10 (88 per cent) claimed they would take action if they saw illegal activity taking place within their own business, and three quarters (77 per cent) claiming they would do so if it were taking place within a competing business. 

Howard Cartlidge, Senior Director of Cartels at the CMA, said: “Businesses that fix prices or rig contracts are breaking the law and ripping people off. The victims are customers and other businesses, who are getting cheated out of a fair deal.

“We know that the vast majority of businesses want to do the right thing, but pleading ignorance simply isn’t good enough. Today’s campaign makes it easy to find out the facts. If you know of something illegal – do the right thing and tell us about it.”

Earlier this month we announced the CMA planned to continue with an investigation into a suspected estate agents’ cartel, following a 2017 case where a group of estate agents in Somerset agreed to work together to fix their minimum commission rates for selling residential properties. And since April 2015 the CMA has issued over £155 million in fines following investigations into anti-competitive practices and it is currently investigating 15 cases within sectors identified as particularly susceptible to cartels, including estate agency and the construction industry.

To find out more about anti-competitive behaviour, how to stop a cartel, and take a competition law quiz, head over to the CMA's dedicated cartel webpage, or why not join the conversation on Twitter using #stopcartels.