The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a cartel awareness campaign, after commissioning research to measure understanding and awareness of competition law. The research covered 1,200 businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in the UK, and suggests that familiarity with competition law remains low.

Key findings

  • Only a quarter of UK businesses say they know competition law ‘well’. However, the picture is improving; compared to 2014 when 20% of respondents said they had never heard of competition law, this year the figure was 16%. Awareness of the CMA has also increased since 2014.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, awareness of competition law is higher in medium and large businesses (those with 50 to 249 employees and more than 249 employees respectively) than in organisations with less than 49 employees. Across the UK, awareness is highest in Northern Ireland (28%) and lowest in the North West (19%).
  • There is a mixed picture in terms of knowledge about specific anti-competitive behaviours. While 59% of respondents were aware that it can be illegal to attend a meeting where competitors agree prices, nearly half either didn’t know or thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work, and more than half (59%) didn’t know or thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal.
  • Two thirds of respondents said they had poor awareness of the penalties for non-compliance with competition law.

The survey also found that, while a majority of businesses (53%) have conducted training sessions in the last year, only 6% of respondents had a training session dealing with competition issues – less popular than training in either fraud (15%) or anti-bribery and corruption (11%).

Comment

The CMA has stepped up its campaign against cartels in recent years. Alongside this research, the CMA has launched a Stop Cartels campaign, urging people to come forward if they suspect illegal business behaviour, such as fixing prices or rigging contracts, and has produced materials explaining key competition law risk areas for businesses. The CMA says that previous campaigns have seen a 30% rise in the number of tip-offs to the CMA’s cartels hotline. The CMA also continues to step up its enforcement action. Since April 2015 it has issued over £155 million in fines following investigations into anti-competitive practices and it has also pursued disqualification of individual directors [see our previous Law-Now] – all of which serves as a reminder for businesses to ensure they have a clear understanding of competition law and have taken steps to ensure competition law compliance within their organisation.