The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been conducting market research on businesses as part of a campaign to encourage whistleblowing of criminal activity.

This has produced some surprising results (summarised in the Financial Times today) including:

  • only 57 per cent of companies surveyed knew that pricing fixing is illegal;
  • 23 per cent did not know that discussing prices with competitors during bid processes was illegal; and
  • over 25 per cent did not know that dividing up and sharing customers with competitors was illegal.

These gaps in knowledge and awareness could leave companies at risk of sanctions and fines, potentially costing millions of pounds. As the senior director of cartels at the CMA is quoted as saying:

"Pleading ignorance simply isn't good enough".

Whistleblowers are seen as key to exposing and prosecuting this type of crime and are incentivised to do so. Individuals can earn themselves rewards of up to £100,000 and companies that expose cartels can have their liability reduced or removed entirely.

The CMA claims that previous campaigns to raise awareness of whistleblowing have resulted in increased numbers of tip-offs. It remains to be seen whether this latest effort has the desired effect. However, it is clear that the current state of awareness of the law in this area leaves many companies at risk of inadvertently committing crimes. Ignorance is no defence.