Cartel on the market of furniture boards | SSW Legal Alert
According to the official information published on 28 December 2017 on the website of the Competition and Consumers Protection Office (UOKiK), the President of UOKiK issued a decision named “one of the most important decisions in the recent years”. The decision concerns a collusion between the manufacturers of furniture boards which took place in the years 2008-2011. In the opinion of the President of UOKiK, as a result of the collusion, the purchasers of wood-based boards could have paid higher prices than if there was no illegal collusion. As a result of the above, the collusion indirectly affected the consumers who paid more for furniture manufactured using those boards.
The cartel included determination of prices and exchange of business information concerning the conditions of sales on the market of chipboards and fibreboards in Poland. The participants of the illegal collusion included the following entrepreneurs: Kronospan Mielec, Kronospan Szczecinek, Pfleiderer Group, Pfleiderer Wieruszów and Swiss Krono. The Competition and Consumers Protection Office charged the entrepreneurs with fines in the total amount of about PLN 135 million. The decision is not final and the punished companies may appeal to the court. Swiss Krono took advantage of the leniency programme and avoided the fine in return for cooperation with the President of UOKiK.
Pursuing the claims
Determination of infringement of the prohibition to conclude arrangements limiting competition opens the path for pursuing the claims by the entities who suffered losses because of conclusion of the illegal collusion. The claims may be lodged by the entities directly purchasing the products from the participants of the collusion (for example manufacturers of furniture or other goods manufactured using the boards included in the collusion), as well as purchasers located further on in the supply chain (for example consumers being the final receivers of such goods).
The injured parties may take advantage of certain simplifications in pursuing the claims as specified in chapter 3 of the act of 21 April 2017 on claims for redressing losses caused by infringement of the competition law (“Private enforcement act”). In particular, those provisions allow the court resolving the case to order (for example the claimant) to disclose the evidence used to confirm a fact which is significant for resolution of the case, including an e-mail message. Additionally, in the case when the decision becomes final and binding, a common court will be bound by it with respect to stating infringement of the competition law. It means that the injured party will not be obliged to prove such circumstances.
However, it seems that not all elements included in the Private enforcement act will be available for the parties injured in the collusion detected by UOKiK. Limitations may mainly refer to the possibility of taking advantage of the assumed fault of the perpetrator of competition law infringement or assumption that the infringement caused a loss.
How can we help?
SSW offers support of a multidisciplinary team composed of specialists within the scope of competition law, procedural law and financial consulting. We provide comprehensive services to the entities who could be affected by infringement of the competition law. In that scope:
- we identify the claims which may be available to the injured parties,
- we provide assistance in determining the amount of the suffered loss,
- we represent the injured parties before common courts.
We offer our services to the entrepreneurs who may be subject to claims lodged against them. In that scope:
- we identify the possible threats,
- we prepare the defence and represent the entrepreneurs before the President of UOKiK and common courts.
It cannot be excluded that as a result of the above decision, the President of UOKiK will maintain its interest in the furniture sector which may result in more proceedings in that area. We offer comprehensive support for the entrepreneurs in such proceedings, in particular while providing responses to the questions of the President of UOKiK. Our experience includes also implementation of the compliance programmes in order to ensure the conducted activities with the competition law. We also offer review of all business relations with the competitors and the business partners of the entrepreneur, including an analysis of the used agreements. After applying the appropriate preventive measures, it is possible to effectively decrease the risk of infringing the competition law.