Antitrust Law

When you think of "cartels", you immediately think of Hollywood blockbusters. However, business cartels and antitrust law are not only found in movies, but (unfortunately) also in everyday business life.

Free competition is the driver of innovation. Without fair competition, there are neither improved products nor fair prices, and consumers and fair companies lose out. That is why antitrust law prohibits price fixing, market sharing and market manipulation of any kind, and punishes violations with sensitive penalties. Corresponding laws exist worldwide.

To avoid or detect antitrust violations, you first need to understand what exactly cartels are, what behavior is legal or illegal, and how to detect and prevent violations before anything happens. In this article, we will go into detail about antitrust law, detection characteristics, prevention and training on the topic.

Cartels in business: What does it look like?

A cartel is formed when competing companies agree on prices, customers or territories. As a result of this collusion and market manipulation, customers no longer have a choice and free competition is restricted. The same applies when a company has a dominant market position and can thus dictate prices. To prevent this anti-competitive behavior, antitrust laws exist virtually everywhere in the world.

In certain areas, however, cooperation between competing companies can also be sensible and legal. One such example would be car manufacturers developing a common standard for electric car charging stations. Collaboration in the area of statistics can also make sense, as long as it benefits consumers. So when is cooperation and information sharing against antitrust law? As with many legal questions, the answer is: it depends.


There are three basic forms in antitrust law:


Horizontal restriction of competition: This restriction is directed against coordination between companies at the same market level, for example two car manufacturers. Typical antitrust violations include price fixing, market or customer sharing, and the exchange of future strategies. In such clear-cut cases, it does not matter how much market share the companies have in common, because these are so-called "hardcore agreements". In less clear-cut cases, the companies must have a combined market share of more than 10% for any agreements to become relevant under antitrust law.

Vertical restriction of competition: into illegal agreements, for example a reinsurer and a primary insurer or a primary insurer and brokers. By the way, it does not matter for antitrust law whether the companies conclude written contracts or only make verbal "gentlemen's agreements". Even if two competitors only behave in the same way on the market, for example if they constantly offer the same prices, the antitrust authorities can assume concerted behavior. And the companies must prove that this is not the case. beweisen, dass dem nicht so ist.

Abuse of a dominant market position: As a rule, companies with a market share of 40% or more are considered to be dominant. If they charge unreasonably high prices, use predatory pricing to force competitors out of the market, or treat comparable customers differently, this constitutes a violation of antitrust law.

The consequences for violations of antitrust law can be drastic and lead to personal fines of up to €1 million. Involved companies face fines of up to 10% of the group's annual turnover. So what does this mean for each and every one of us? Make sure that you do not exchange any competition-sensitive information that could allow conclusions to be drawn about current or future market behavior, especially when in contact with competitors, but also with upstream or downstream business partners. If in doubt, contact the compliance department or the compliance officer in your company.


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What could be possible signs of an antitrust violation?

Simultaneous price changes: If companies in a particular industry increase or decrease their prices almost simultaneously, without any obvious reason (e.g., increased energy prices for all suppliers), this could be an indication of possible cartel collusion. Companies are unlikely to make similar pricing decisions independently unless there is some form of coordination.

Stable prices despite price fluctuations: If the cost of raw materials, production, or transportation fluctuates widely, but the prices of the companies involved remain relatively stable, this could be an indication of joint price fixing. Cartels may try to keep prices at an artificially high level in order to make higher profits, even if costs have fallen.

Parallel behavior: If firms in an industry exhibit similar patterns of output adjustments or market share distributions, this may indicate that they are sharing the market among themselves or exercising some form of informal control. For example, they may agree to dominate certain geographic areas or customer segments rather than compete directly with each other.

Inside information / whistleblowers: employees of a company might have knowledge of cartel agreements and decide to disclose information to antitrust authorities. Whistleblowers can provide valuable information that can lead to the discovery of cartels. This information may include, for example, illegal agreements, emails, or other evidence that indicates the existence of a cartel.

It is important to note that these signs do not necessarily prove the presence of a cartel. However, they can serve as warning signs that may prompt further investigation and inquiry by antitrust authorities.

Measures against antitrust violations:

It is also important to avoid sharing competitively sensitive information with competitors. Companies should not share sensitive data on prices, production volumes or customers with other companies in order to avoid creating incentives for illegal collusion.

Open and transparent communication with competitors should be limited to legal aspects of competition, such as improving products or entering new markets. Other helpful measures could be as follows:


Raising awareness: about  competition-relevant information

This includes sensitive data such as prices, production volumes, strategic plans or customer lists.

Strong compliance culture through employee training

Training and education programs such as our compliance training can educate employees about the legal framework and make them aware of potential antitrust risks.

Implementation of internal control mechanisms

This includes, for example, the introduction of anonymous reporting channels or whistleblower programs through which employees can confidentially share concerns or information about possible cartel activity.

Regular review & monitoring

Companies should regularly review their business practices and operations. This includes monitoring pricing, sales channels and communications with competitors.

Cooperation with antitrust authorities

Companies should adopt an open and cooperative attitude toward the relevant antitrust authorities. This means that they provide information when necessary and assist in investigations.


These prevention measures help companies create awareness of antitrust law and ensure that they comply with applicable laws. By being proactive and minimizing risks, companies can help protect competition and increase consumer confidence in the market.

Antitrust law - the goal: fair and stable markets for everyone

Fair and stable markets are essential for all companies. Preventing cartels and maintaining fair competition are crucial for companies and society as a whole. Cartels can manipulate the market, disadvantage consumers and hinder innovation. Therefore, it is essential that companies take effective measures to minimize the risk of engaging in illegal cartel arrangements.

One decisive measure for this can be employee training such as our compliance training. This can inform employees about the legal framework and raise their awareness of potential antitrust risks. They learn to recognize and protect competition-relevant information and come to terms with the consequences associated with infringements of antitrust law. They will also be made aware of how to handle tips and information.

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