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€951m in fines for price fixing

Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal among 13 consumer giants fined for manipulating prices of hygiene products in supermarkets

FRANCE’S competition watchdog has fined 13 of the world’s largest consumer companies a total of €951m (£748m) over price-fixing in supermarkets.

The Autorité de la Concurrence ruled that the companies, including Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Henkel, L’Oréal, Beiersdorf and Johnson & Johnson’s Laboratoires Vendôme, had colluded on the prices of personal hygiene and cleaning products in France between 2003 and 2006.

The regulator imposed sanctions totalling €345.2m in relation to price-fixing on cleaning products and a further €605.9m for price fixing on personal hygiene products.

It is the largest total fine the Autorité de la Concurrence has imposed. The previous highest was a €534m penalty imposed on mobile phone operators in 2005.

The prices of a number of popular brands in France were fixed, the regulator said - including Vanish stain remover, Palmolive washing-up liquid, Sanex and Petit Marseillais shower gel, shampoos including Head & Shoulders, and Colgate toothpaste.

Mouthwashes, deodorants, shaving creams and razors, body lotion, facial and sun creams and insect sprays were also affected.

The regulator said that executives from the companies met “regularly and secretly to coordinate their commercial policies and discuss their pricing policies”.

L’Oréal has denied anti-competitive activities and vowed to appeal against the €189.5m fine it has been handed; Anglo-Dutch Unilever has also said it will appeal against its €172.5m portion of the total fine.

Henkel, which makes Persil washing powder, said it would examine the decision before deciding on its reaction to fines totalling €109m.

Other companies, such as Reckitt, which makes Dettol, said that its French subsidiaries had been co-operating with the investigation and a provision it made in 2013 would cover its €121m in fines.

In 2011, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Henkel and Colgate-Palmolive were found guilty of price-fixing on soap powder between 1997 and 2004.

Photo: Anthony Aglus

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