The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching a new campaign to encourage more people to come forward with information that will help it hunt out illegal cartels. The campaign is part of a ramping up of the CMA’s enforcement activity and comes after the award of an extra £2.8m from the government for this work.
The campaign will target those working in industries with a history of reported cartel activity both in the UK and internationally, as well as sectors with characteristics that make them susceptible to cartels, including construction. The CMA currently has 4 open investigations in the construction sector. The CMA’s research shows that, when compared with other sectors, construction companies were the least likely to have run any training for staff on cartels. Those working in construction were also more likely to meet with competitors to discuss prices, with a risk that those discussions cross the line into illegal cartel activity.
Cartels are businesses which cheat their customers by agreeing not to compete with each other so that they can keep their prices high. There are serious penalties for being in a cartel, but many workers in the UK know little about them, putting them and their companies at risk.
The new campaign encourages people to be “Safe, not Sorry” if they think they may have involved themselves in cartel activity and to make sure they are the first to report it to the CMA. Witnesses – those not involved themselves but who have seen something untoward – are also asked to “Do the Right Thing” by reporting it to the CMA.
The CMA saw a 30% increase in tip offs in 2017, following the launch of the CMA’s first digital campaign.
As part of the new campaign, the CMA is reminding people that, if they come forward with information about their involvement, they can receive significant reductions in fines and avoid being disqualified from running a company. If they are the first to come forward, they can receive total immunity, including from criminal prosecution. Witnesses who blow the whistle can receive a reward of up to £100,000.
Stephen Blake, Senior Director for Cartels at the CMA, said: “We are committed to tackling cartels wherever we find them. More people are reporting illegal activity to us and we urge anyone with information to come forward. If you’re involved, it’s better to be safe, not sorry and to tell us about it first – before someone else does.
“For those who were not involved but have witnessed illegal activity, we urge them to do the right thing. We know that this is a sensitive issue and some people could worry about what might happen to them if they speak to us. All information is treated confidentially and we can discuss any concerns that people may have over keeping their identity secret.”
Cases where the CMA or its predecessor have taken enforcement action include where construction companies were fined over £63 million for engaging in bid-rigging on nearly 200 building projects for schools, universities and hospitals. The companies colluded when tendering for building contracts, mostly in the form of cover pricing and Construction recruitment agencies fined over £7.9 million for fixing fee rates charged to clients.