Brussels, 15th October 2008
The European Commission has found that banana importers Chiquita, Dole and Weichert participated in a cartel between 2000 and 2002 in violation of the EC Treaty's ban on cartels and restrictive practices (Article 81). The Commission has therefore imposed a total of € 60 300 000 in fines on Dole and Weichert . The cartel members coordinated the setting of their quotation prices for bananas in eight EU Member States. At the time of the infringement, Weichert was trading mainly Del Monte branded bananas. Chiquita was not fined as it provided information to the Commission that enabled it to open its investigation. The fines on Dole and Weichert were reduced by 60% in view of the particular circumstances of the case, including the specific regulatory régime for the banana market that was in place at the time. An additional reduction of 10% was accorded to Weichert as it did not participate in a part of the cartel. Del Monte is held jointly and severally liable for the payment of the fine imposed on Weichert as it controlled Weichert at the time of the infringement. The cartel affected Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden, where the combined retail value of bananas sold in 2002 amounted to around €2.5 billion.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said “European consumers spend significant sums on bananas every year. It is totally unacceptable for companies to have rigged prices in this manner and the companies concerned must learn the hard way that the Commission will not tolerate such behaviour.”
Bananas are bought all year around by a large proportion of EU consumers. Banana consumption in the eight Member States concerned amounted to some 1.6 million tonnes in 2002, with a retail value estimated at around € 2.5 billion.
The Commission investigation started in April 2005 after Chiquita had applied for immunity under the Commission’s 2002 Leniency Notice (see IP/02/247 and MEMO/02/23) and the Commission carried out surprise inspections at the premises of several banana importers.
The banana business is organised in weekly cycles. During the relevant period the importers of leading brands of bananas into the eight EU Member States principally served by North European ports set and then announced every Thursday morning their reference price (their “quotation price”) for the following week. On numerous occasions over the three year period there were bilateral phone calls among the companies, usually the day before they set their price. During these calls the companies discussed or disclosed their pricing intentions: how they saw the price evolving or whether they intended to maintain, increase or decrease the quotation price.
(*) Legal entities within the undertaking may be held jointly and severally liable for the payment of the fine
Action for damages
Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages. The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision is binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine. A White Paper on antitrust damages actions has been published (see IP/08/515 and MEMO/08/216). More information, including a citizens' summary of the White Paper, is available at:
For more information on the Commission’s action against cartels, see MEMO/08/623