Press release

East of England lawyers asked to help competition law awareness

Lawyers in the East of England are being asked to help promote awareness of new competition law compliance materials to business clients.

Competition law

Around 200 law firms headquartered in the East of England will be contacted by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and encouraged to share the CMA’s easy-to-use competition law information with their small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients.

The information is intended to help SMEs recognise anti-competitive practices, comply with competition law and report suspicions of illegal anti-competitive activity.

The approach is part of the CMA’s ongoing drive to boost awareness of, and compliance with, competition law, following the launch of its competing fairly in business: advice for small businesses materials.

The East of England is the eighth region to be chosen as the target of an awareness-raising drive.

Earlier this year, the CMA fined ITW Ltd, the parent company of Norfolk-based fridge supplier Foster Refrigerator, £2.2 million for breaking competition law. Foster Refrigerator had operated a ‘minimum advertised price’ policy and threatened dealers with sanctions – including threatening to charge them higher cost prices for Foster products or stopping supply – if they advertised below that minimum price.

Research shows that businesses’ understanding of competition law in the area is low:

  • only 31% of businesses surveyed in the East of England knew that it is unlawful to set the price at which others can re-sell their product
  • only 56% of businesses in the East of England knew that price-fixing is illegal
  • only 5% of businesses in the East of England had run training sessions on competition law

The consequences of breaching competition law can be severe:

  • businesses can be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover
  • company directors can be disqualified from managing a company for up to 15 years
  • people involved in cartels can face up to 5 years in prison

The CMA has also commissioned further research which revealed that most small businesses have a shared ethical sense that certain anti-competitive practices, such as price-fixing, are unfair or wrong and want to do the right thing.

Ann Pope, CMA Senior Director of Antitrust Enforcement, said:

The victims of anti-competitive activity can often be other businesses, so knowing what illegal behaviour looks like and how to report it can help small and medium-sized businesses protect themselves.

The potential consequences of breaking the law are very serious. That is why it is important that all businesses know what to look out for and report suspected breaches to the CMA.

Legal advisers to SMEs are ideally placed to help raise awareness of competition law among their clients.

Salena Dawson, Federation of Small Businesses Regional Chair for East Anglia, said:

It’s good to see the CMA raising awareness among small businesses of the rights they possess under competition law. Anti-competitive practices harm many small businesses across the East of England. We must create an environment where all small firms recognise and report anti-competitive behaviour and are not afraid to speak out. Helping small businesses identify all the forms that anti-competitive practices can take is a good starting point.

In addition to contacting lawyers, the CMA will also be contacting regional business representatives in order to explain the importance of competition law.

Notes for editors

  1. The CMA is the UK’s primary competition and consumer authority. It is an independent non-ministerial government department with responsibility for carrying out investigations into mergers, markets and the regulated industries and enforcing competition and consumer law. For CMA updates, follow us on Twitter @CMAgovuk, Flickr and LinkedIn.
  2. The CMA has created a suite of competition law guidance materials to assist businesses and their advisers.
  3. The CMA has also created a form so anyone concerned about potential anti-competitive or market issues can raise an alert.
  4. Media enquiries should be directed to Simon Belgard (simon.belgard@cma.gsi.gov.uk, 020 3738 6472).
Published 16 November 2016