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From Antitrust Law Daily, December 18, 2014

France fines home care, personal care products makers for cartel conduct

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

The biggest names in the manufacture of home care and personal care products have been fined a total of nearly one billion Euros by the French competition authority for engaging in illegal concerted activity. The Autorité de la concurrence announced today fines totaling €345.2 million imposed on manufacturers in the market for home care products and fines totaling €605.9 million on manufacturers in the market for personal care products. Among the dozen companies implicated, Unilever and L'Oréal were hit with the largest fines.

The challenged practices allowed the manufacturers to maintain artificially high selling prices to retailers, which were then passed on in prices paid by end consumers, according to the agency. The long-running investigation was initiated after the agency was notified of the conduct by leniency applicants. SC Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, and Henkel successively applied to benefit from the leniency procedure, it was noted.

The competition authority conducted raids in 2006 in response the tips from the leniency applicants. The very first raid occurred during a lunch organized in a Parisian restaurant called “le Royal Villiers,” where some of the players were caught in act, according to the announcement.

The competition authority said that the manufacturers met regularly and secretly to coordinate their commercial policies and discuss their pricing policies. These meetings were supplemented by bilateral or multilateral contacts, including phone calls, it was noted.

The products involved account for a significant share of French household spending, according to the competition authority. The home care products included: fabric softeners, stain removers, dishwashing detergent, and household cleaners. The personal care products included: shampoos and conditioners, shower gels, oral care products, deodorants, shaving products, and feminine personal care products, among others.

Fines. The largest fine of €189,494,000 was imposed on L'Oréal for its conduct in the personal care sector. Unilever, which was among the companies that did not challenge the alleged facts under a negotiated settlement procedure, was required to pay more than €172.5 million for its role in the two infringements. The lowest fine was a €7.9 million penalty imposed on Bolton Manitoba.

Companies: Colgate-Palmolive Co.; Henkel; L'Oreal; Unilever PLC; S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust

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