Federal Court Justice, Jayne Jagot said in court today that “the penalty reflects the objective seriousness of the contraventions”.
“By imposing these penalties, the court has acknowledged that Woolworths was knowingly concerned in an anti-competitive understanding which they admitted was reached between laundry detergent manufacturers,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“This penalty is the largest the ACCC has obtained against a party that was an accessory to competition law breaches by being knowingly concerned in anticompetitive conduct.”
“This is a timely reminder that businesses must ensure that their competition law compliance programs educate their staff about the risks involved in communications or other conduct which facilitates an anti-competitive understanding between other businesses,” Sims said.
The penalty orders were based on admissions made by Woolworths, and joint submissions on penalty made by Woolworths and the ACCC. The Federal Court also made orders by consent that Woolworths update its trade practices compliance program and pay a contribution of $250,000 towards the ACCC’s costs in the proceedings.
The fine comes two months after Colgate-Palmolive was fined $18 million over a scheme with other manufacturers to control the supply and price of detergent. Woolworths has been hit with the biggest penalty of its kind in action brought by the competition watchdog.
Woolworths said in a statement on Friday afternoon that it acknowledged the “behaviour of one of its former buyers was not consistent with the high standards of competition law compliance we seek to achieve.”
“Since the issues leading to today’s Court hearing occurred, now over seven years ago, Woolworths has reviewed and upgraded its compliance program and training and will continue to do so to help ensure that all employees comply with the Company’s code of conduct at all times,” the statement concluded.