ACM-logoNETHERLANDS: The Dutch competitions authority has fined four cold storage companies nearly €12.5m for making illegal agreements and distorting competition.

The fines were imposed by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in three cases on four companies. Five executives  each received personal fines, the highest of which was €144,000.

It was said that between 2006 and 2009, the companies involved – Eimskip, Kloosbeheer, Samskip and Van Bon (now H&S Coldstores) – were holding merger talks. In those talks they made arrangements about prices, exchanged competition-sensitive information, and shared customers among each other. As a result ACM says that competition in the cold-storage market had been seriously impeded.

Illegal agreements

“These companies made illegal agreements, and thus distorted competition, said ACM chairman Chris Fonteijn. “Competition is necessary for producing competitive prices, better quality, and innovation in markets. Cartels are simply not allowed. One company fully cooperated with the investigation, and will therefore see its fine reduced. During the investigations into the cold-storage market, two other companies also made promises to improve their behaviour. With the fines and these promises, we wish to promote competition in this particular market.”

The companies were served with fines between €450,000 and €9.6m.

Admission

After admitting to its mistakes and co-operating with ACM’s investigation, Kloosbeheer’s fine was reduced by 10%. In the period under investigation, Kloosbeheer was holding merger talks. Kloosbeheer admitted that it had been ‘too open too soon, during the merger talks.

Between 2006 and 2009, the companies concerned were said to have distorted competition in various ways. Anticompetitive arrangements were discovered in various emails and competition-sensitive information was frequently exchanged. There were instances of managers informing each other about the price for food storage, discussed current utilisation rates of their storage facilities, and whether or not they were looking for jobs. Sometimes they made arrangements about who would get which customer or about what price increase would be passed on. Also, arrangements were made about bids to potential clients, which meant that it was clear in advance who would get the job, says the ACM.