The Full Court of the Federal Court has dismissed the ACCC’s appeal against a ruling that there was insufficient evidence to find that PZ Cussons Australia (Cussons) engaged in cartel behaviour in the laundry detergent market.
“We took this action because the alleged conduct related to an essential household product that is frequently purchased and used by Australian consumers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“The ACCC takes cartel conduct extremely seriously, due to its impact on consumers and the wider economy.”
“Cartel conduct is an enduring enforcement and compliance priority for the ACCC,” Mr Sims said.
Today’s decision follows admissions by Colgate and Woolworths in 2016 that they engaged in anti-competitive conduct in the laundry detergent market, conduct for which they paid penalties of $18 million and $9 million respectively.
The ACCC took action against Colgate, Cussons, Mr Paul Ansell (a former Colgate executive) and Woolworths Ltd in 2013 alleging the parties agreed to stop supplying standard concentrate detergent in favour of ultra-concentrate detergent. Woolworths and Mr Ansell were alleged to have been knowingly concerned in the arrangements reached between Colgate, Cussons and Unilever.
The ACCC’s court action followed an immunity application by Unilever, which consented to being named as the immunity applicant.
In 2016, Colgate and Mr Ansell admitted their involvement in cartel conduct to stop supplying standard concentrate detergent in favour of ultra-concentrate detergent and another arrangement that the ACCC alleged involved only Colgate and Unilever.
Also in 2016, Woolworths admitted being knowingly concerned in the contravention of the Act by the laundry detergent manufacturers in which they agreed to stop supplying standard concentrate detergent to Woolworths in early 2009 and to supply only ultra-concentrate detergent to Woolworths from that time. Woolworths was ordered to pay a penalty of $9 million.
The ACCC’s case against Cussons was dismissed in December 2017. The ACCC lodged its appeal in February 2018.
In October 2017, the Australian Parliament introduced a prohibition against concerted practices that substantially lessen competition into the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The ACCC took action against Cussons prior to the amendments.