Unilever Hellas called to explain

The Competition Commission has called on Unilever Hellas, the Greek branch of the consumer goods giant, to respond to a report that it had blocked customers from buying its products from other cheaper sources. The competition watchdog is investigating several sectors of the economy that are believed to be controlled by a handful of companies and are leading to price distortions. An initial investigation into the sector showed that Unilever would not allow supermarket chains to import its products from cheaper markets, therefore keeping the prices of its goods artificially high. «A first recommendation… deals with the existance of a clause in Unilever Hellas’s contracts with eight supermarkets forbidding imports over the same period of time in 2000-2003,» the commission said in a statement yesterday. Unilever and the eight supermarkets – Alfa Beta Vassilopoulos, Metro, Makro, Veropoulos, Masoutis and Atlantik, along with the groups Ora and Kypseli – will be called in for an examination of the case on November 13. The consumer goods giant, whose detergents include brand names such as Omo, Surf and Comfort, responded to the claims by saying that this clause in the contract had been dropped six years ago at its own initiative. Unilever Hellas is one of the largest suppliers of the country’s supermarkets and provides them with products in 25 different categories. The country’s competition watchdog has launched investigations into dozens of industries, in an effort to establish whether there are illegal price-fixing practices. Some 52 branches are being targeted, including the beer, detergent and coastal shipping markets. Experts believe that one of the reasons Greece’s inflation rate – just below the 5 percent mark in July – is higher than in other eurozone countries is the lack of competition in key sectors of the economy. However, the government has been slow in following up recommendations put forth by the Competition Commission.