The CMA has issued a warning to businesses with a new campaign, which asks firms if they are ‘Cheating or Competing?’.
The launch comes after a sustained crackdown against illegal cartels by the Competition and Markets Authority, which issued over £43m in fines last year alone.
Anti-competitive practices like price fixing, bid rigging and dividing markets or customers between competitors – commonly referred to as market sharing – can take place in any business.
Howard Cartlidge, the CMA’s senior director of Cartels, said: “The CMA is cracking down on businesses that collude to rip off customers by fixing prices, sharing out markets amongst themselves or rigging bids. Our message to them is that we know cheating when we see it, even if you don’t. Pleading ignorance is no defence; it’s up to businesses to know what these unfair practices look like and avoid them.
“By ensuring you stay on the right side of the law, you can avoid substantial fines, director disqualification or jail. And if you suspect something illegal is going on, report it to us before it’s too late.”
The CMA said it understands that most businesses want to do the right thing and the campaign is designed to help them do that and to ensure fair dealing.
Putting an end to an illegal cartel means that businesses and customers don’t lose out because others choose to cheat – cheating that comes with serious consequences.
The catering equipment sector has famously had its own run-ins with the CMA after it was the subject of a two-year investigation into price fixing, but the latest warning appears to be directed more at industries such as construction.
New research, conducted on behalf of the CMA, revealed that only 6% of construction firms were familiar with competition law and that general understanding of the illegality of these business practices is low.
29% of those surveyed thought it was ok to attend meetings with competitors to agree prices. A further 32% thought agreeing not to supply each other’s customers was legal, and a quarter (25%) saw no problem with discussing bids and agreeing who would get which tenders.