In one of the last court proceedings instituted by the
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ("ACCC")
in 2013, the ACCC filed proceedings against Australia's leading
suppliers of laundry products alleging a "laundry detergent
cartel." The ACCC alleges that three manufacturers of laundry
products agreed to stop supplying standard-concentrate laundry
detergents and agreed to supply only ultraconcentrate detergents
starting in 2009.
The companies are alleged to have:
Coordinated their ultraconcentrate products to meet certain
specifications, including packaging dimensions and
Entered into a "Pricing Parity Arrangement," agreeing
not to pass on the cost savings generated by manufacturing and
supplying ultraconcentrates; and
Two of the manufacturers are alleged to have shared market
sensitive information regarding pricing and proposed pricing
The ACCC discovered the cartel as a result of an immunity
application by Unilever, one of the three manufacturers.
Interestingly, the ACCC is also going after Woolworths, one of two
supermarket chains that predominate Australian retail. The ACCC is
alleging that the company was knowingly involved in the
arrangements, pointing in particular to the fact that various
meetings where these arrangements were discussed were held at
Woolworths' offices and involved Woolworths' staff.
The case highlights both the importance of active compliance
programs to be able to discover potential competition law exposures
while immunity is available, and the limits of industry
collaboration in setting common standards or agreed approaches to
industrywide innovation. In relation to the allegations against
Woolworths, this case serves as useful reminder that the ACCC will
not hesitate to prosecute those that are not directly responsible
for forming and reaching cartel agreements – those that are
aware of the elements of conduct that would constitute the breach
and who only play a small part in facilitating the breach can also
be alleged to be knowingly concerned.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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