Price fixing: Breaking the law or making a living?

WHAT IT IS

  • Bumble Bee Tuna LLC (“Bumble Bee”) has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring with other companies to “fix, raise, and maintain prices of packaged seafood.”
  • The price fixing occurred from the first quarter of 2011 through the fourth quarter of 2013.
  • Price fixing = an illegal agreement amongst competitors to raise, lower, or “fix” the price of a product.

WHY IT MATTERS

It is important that corporations are monitored and unable to abuse any pricing power that they may have in their markets. More specific to this case, tuna fish has long been a staple of the average American diet (despite recent consumption falling) and any price fixing / gouging affects millions of American families.

  • SIDING WITH BUSINESS – “Gotta make a living”

    • We had no choice: Demand for tuna fish has been steadily declining in the U.S. for years and the company needed to artificially inflate prices to survive.
  • SIDING WITH GOVERNMENT – “You broke the law”

    • It’s illegal: Price fixing hurts consumers and artificially inflates company margins, so the Department of Justice (DOJ) has an obligation to crackdown when offenders are caught.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Bumble Bee has confessed to its involvement and has agreed to pay a $25 million fine; this fine could increase if the company is purchased.
  • The plea deal is still pending subject to court approval.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • In 2015, the DOJ expressed “serious concern” Thai Union’s bid to purchase Bumble Bee on the grounds that it would diminish competition too greatly.
  • Despite DOJ intervention, is the canned seafood market still too concentrated with only three main players?