Yesterday, the BKartA fined three consumer goods manufacturers for anti-competitive information exchanges amounting to € 38 million in total. For several years, the parties held meetings in which they updated each other on their negotiations with retailers such as intended price increases. The undertakings concerned are Kraft Foods, Unilever and Dr. Oetker. Investigations against one further party are ongoing. Henkel was also temporarily involved in the infringing conduct at hand but was not fined. Its conduct was already subject to the BKartA's "drugstore products" decision of February 2008 (see Community Week issue 362). Mars also took part in the unlawful conduct. However, it was not fined because it was granted immunity under the BKartA's leniency programme.
To the extent competitively relevant data is concerned, information exchanges restrict competition and thus infringe German and European competition law. The BKartA found this to be the case. The president of the BKartA, Andreas Mundt, commented: "Certain types of information exchange between competitors are illegal under competition law. Competition is impaired by such practices, even if they are not classical hardcore agreements about prices, supply areas, customers or quotas."
The fining decisions are not yet final and can be appealed. Apparently, the BKartA deems appeals unlikely in this case as the three fined parties have agreed to terminate the proceedings by way of settlement.
To view Community Week, Issue 513; 18th March 2011 in full, Click here.
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