The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched a campaign to combat cartel activity (see www.lawdepartment.net/global "Withdrawing from an international cartel", GC, 2000, V(9), 43). As an incentive to encourage members of cartels to come forward with evidence, the OFT operates a leniency policy towards whistleblowers, under which whistleblowers may be given reduced fines or immunity from fines. Small businesses are being targeted by the OFT not only in the hope that they will act as good complainants in suspected cartel activity inquiries, but also that the threat of substantial fines will be an incentive to blow the whistle on any cartel involvement. Under the Competition Act 1998, companies can be fined up to 10% of UK turnover for a maximum of three years. The DGFT has made it clear that cartel busting remains high on his list of priorities. Four companies have approached the OFT seeking immunity from fines for whistleblowing on cartel activities and complaints to the OFT regarding anti-competitive behaviour have trebled since the 1998 Act came into force in March 2000.
Source: OFT press release PN 46/00; OFT press release PN 8/01; OFT's guidelines on leniency programme is available at www.oft.gov.uk/html/comp-act/leniency Clifford Chance