On 17 May the European Commission has started unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the fashion industry in several Member States. In parallel, the Commission has sent out formal requests for information to several companies active in the fashion sector.
The Commission has concerns that the companies concerned may have violated Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 53 of the European Economic Area Agreement, which prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices. The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.
Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigative step into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections and sends out formal requests for information does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.
The inspections have been conducted in compliance with all coronavirus health and safety protocols to ensure the security of those involved.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the need to respect the parties’ rights of defence.
Under the Commission’s leniency programme companies that have been involved in a secret cartel may be granted immunity from fines or significant reductions in fines in return for reporting the conduct and cooperating with the Commission throughout its investigation. Individuals can report cartel or other anti-competitive behaviour on an anonymous basis through the Commission’s whistle-blower tool. Further information on the Commission’s leniency programme and whistle-blower tool is available on DG Competition’s website.