The Competition Tribunal of South Africa has asked the country’s Competition Commission to provide more evidence in its collusion case against Unilever, granting the company a moment’s breather in the margarine lawsuit.
The tribunal said the commission needed to file more material to clarify its case against Unilever, which the commission earlier this year ordered to pay a fine equalling 10% of its local turnover, FOX Business reported on 7 November.
The commission alleged that, between 2004 and 2013, Unilever colluded with oils and fats firm Sime Darby Hudson & Knight, striking a deal in which Sime Darby refrained from producing spreads in small packages, thus leaving the market sector to Unilever and driving up oil and fat prices.
In 2016, Sime Darby agreed to pay a US$2.5M fine for anticompetitive behaviour and to invest in a new packaging facility where it would produce the smaller sized oil and fat products it had previously shunned.
In Unilever’s case, however, the company asked the tribunal in September to order to commission to amend its complaint, which lacked specificity and was confusing, a view with which the tribunal agreed by calling the commission’s referral “vague and embarrassing”.
The tribunal said Unilever was not at the moment looking to dismiss the case, provided that its request to amend the complaint was fulfilled.
The commission had until 22 November to submit additional materials and to explain which agreements it was relying on to make its allegations, after which Unilever would have 20 days to respond.
In September, Unilever announced it would sell its South African spreads business to South Africa-based investment holding company Remgro for ZAR11.9bn (US$896M) in exchange for acquiring Remgro’s 25.75% share in Unilever South Africa Holdings.