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Europe fines chemical makers for colluding on ethylene prices

Three buyers—Celanese, Clariant, and Orbia—must pay a total of $293 million

by Alex Scott
July 15, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 28


The European Commission (EC) has fined Clariant, Celanese, and Orbia a total of $293 million for fixing the price they paid for ethylene in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands between December 2011 and March 2017.

Buyers club
Clariant was hit with the biggest fine for ethylene price-fixing.

Source: European Commission.

A table listing fines to companies in dollars and their leniency reduction.

Clariant was fined $175 million, Celanese $93 million, and Orbia $25 million. Ethylene is a basic monomer used for making a wide range of products, including plastics.

All three of the companies have accepted involvement in the ethylene cartel and agreed to pay their fines. Westlake Chemical would also have been fined for its involvement in the price-fixing case if it had not been exonerated for blowing the whistle on the cartel.

The cartel was unusual, the EC points out, because it involved a conspiracy to lower the price paid for a product. The typical price-fixing case involves firms colluding over the price for which the sell a product. The buyers coordinated their price negotiation strategies in a number of ways, including before and during bilateral monthly contract price settlement negotiations with ethylene sellers, resulting in lower ethylene prices, the EC says.

“The Commission does not tolerate any form of cartels,” Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of the EC, said in a statement on the issue. The EC opened the investigation in June 2016 following a tip-off by Westlake.

Despite being singled out by the EC as the worst perpetrator, Clariant asserts that its entire involvement in the cartel was the result of actions by a single former employee. Clariant has a “strong culture of compliance,” the company claims in a press statement on the case. Clariant set aside cash in 2019 to pay the fine.

Celanese says its involvement was the result of two employees who “crossed the line in exchanging certain sensitive information regarding their views on ethylene price developments.” The firm maintains that the information exchange involved general views on European price developments, and not specific terms or prices.



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