The European Commission has informed five lead recycling companies that it suspects them of having participated in a purchasing cartel for scrap lead-acid batteries, in breach of EU antitrust rules. The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
In Europe, practically all lead-acid batteries are recycled once they are no longer used. Car batteries make up the majority of these batteries. Recycling companies buy scrap batteries from various suppliers and extract the lead from them. This lead from scrap car batteries can then be re-used to make new products and what was regarded as ‘waste’ is turned into a resource. Moving beyond waste and closing the loop on a product's life cycle is linked to the Commission's upcoming circular economy strategy.
The Commission has concerns that, from 2009 to 2012, five lead recycling companies participated in a cartel aimed at fixing the purchase prices for scrap lead-acid batteries in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The Commission alleges in its statement of objections that these companies agreed or coordinated their behaviour only in order to maintain higher profit margins. As a result, they may have lowered the prices paid to scrap dealers, many of which are small and medium-sized companies. Since such behaviour would likely reduce the value of used batteries sold for scrap, this could ultimately be to the detriment of sellers.
If established, such behaviour would violate EU rules that prohibit anticompetitive business practices such as collusion on prices and market sharing (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
The Commission’s investigation started with unannounced inspections in September 2012.
A statement of objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules. The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them and the companies can examine the documents in the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.
If, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, the Commission concludes that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and imposing a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.
Today the Commission has also fined eight manufacturers and two distributors of retail packaging trays for having participated in at least one of five separate cartels.