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Report: 9 consumer products companies suspected of price-fixing in France

Report: 9 consumer products companies suspected of price-fixing in France

Nine European and U.S. consumer products makers, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, are suspected of colluding on prices in France, Le Figaro newspaper said Wednesday.
If found guilty of anticompetitive practices, the companies could face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual worldwide revenue _ possibly amounting to billions of euros (dollars).
France's Competition Council confirmed to The Associated Press that it is investigating one or several companies "in the cleaning products sector" but it refused to name the firms. Colgate, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., and Sara Lee Corp. said they are cooperating with French authorities.
The Competition Council said a company first approached it with a confession that it had taken part in an anticompetitive practice, and that the admission sparked its probe. The council did not name that company or detail the practice involved. It said the company hoped to escape punishment because it provided the information.
Le Figaro said nine companies in total "are suspected of having participated in a vast accord on their prices in France," and that the suspected collusion is believed to have begun toward the end of 2004.
Aside from Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Colgate, the newspaper also named U.S.-based Sara Lee and S.C. Johnson, Germany's Henkel KGaA, Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC of Britain and two others. The companies make some of the best-known brands of toothpaste, shampoo, bleach and other household products.
Henkel and Unilever both confirmed to The AP that a branch of the French Finance Ministry that fights cartels and unfair business practices is investigating.
A Henkel spokeswoman reached at the company's offices in Paris' outskirts said the probe by the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control started in January 2006. A spokeswoman for Reckitt Benckiser said the investigation began in February 2006.
Le Figaro said the directorate's agents have carried out raids and that investigations into the affair are almost finished. The directorate's findings are passed onto the Competition Council, which is empowered to levy fines and grant clemency to firms that cooperate with it. Set up in 1986, the council is an independent state body that fights anticompetitive practices.
Le Figaro said the affair came to light in 2005, when S.C. Johnson decided to come clean to French authorities about the alleged price-collusion _ apparently in hopes of avoiding eventual punishment.
The newspaper said S.C. Johnson named Colgate, Henkel, Sara Lee, and others.
According to Le Figaro, S.C. Johnson "said that, since the end of 2004, they had fallen into the habit of telephoning each other very regularly and of holding secret meetings. E-mails were also exchanged" and market research pooled.
The newspaper said the companies shared information about their market share in cleaning products and insecticides and their prices, as well as commercial information about their distributors.
In a brief statement, SC Johnson's vice president for Global Public Affairs, Kelly M. Semrau, said: "We are fully co-operating with French authorities" but did not say whether it had initially volunteered information.
Le Figaro said that following Johnson's supposed "complete and detailed confession," the Competition Council in 2006 absolved the company of any punishment.
Le Figaro said that Colgate subsequently also confessed to the council about "another entente" that it allegedly had with Procter & Gamble and Unilever PLC, on personal hygiene products.
Segolene Moreau, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble in France, said the company was "awaiting the decision of the Competition Council" but that it had no other comment on the Figaro report.
Colgate-Palmolive spokesman Thomas DiPiazza said its policy is "to comply with all laws, including competition laws," and to promptly correct any compliance problems.
"In keeping with our policy, Colgate has cooperated with the French authorities," DiPiazza said in an e-mailed response to The AP.
Sara Lee's senior vice president for Global Communications, Jon Harris, confirmed that "we are one of several companies involved in the investigation in France."
"We are fully cooperating," he added.
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Associated Press writers Marc Annouchi and Vinnee Tong contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-05 01:15 GMT+08:00