The European Commission is carrying out unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the synthetic turf industry in several Member States.
The Commission has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’)).
Synthetic turf is artificial grass used for different applications that replicates the appearance and function of natural grass. The investigation concerns synthetic turf for sports use.
The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the national competition authorities of the Member States where the inspections were carried out.
Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory 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 company is guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on several factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned cooperate with the Commission and the scope of the exercise of the 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 and companies can report cartel or other anti-competitive behaviour on an anonymous basis through the Commission’s whistle-blower tool.
‘Highly regulated environment’
The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC), the custodian of the synthetic turf industry in Europe, has issued a statement. The organisation confirmed being “aware of the recent news regarding the European Union’s antitrust watchdog raid on companies operating in the synthetic turf industry. While we cannot comment on specific cases or companies involved, we firmly believe in the importance of fair competition and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. As a representative of the synthetic turf industry, we emphasize our commitment to promoting a competitive market environment that benefits both consumers and businesses. Our industry has a track record of fostering innovation, providing high-quality products, and meeting the evolving needs of customers across various sectors. The synthetic turf industry operates in a highly regulated environment and adheres to strict standards and guidelines. We are fully supportive of fair competition policies and compliance with antitrust rules. We believe that healthy competition stimulates innovation, fosters technological advancements, and ultimately benefits end-users.
TenCate Grass CEO Michael Vogel, has confirmed that his company was visited today by the Dutch authorities. He had no further comment. TenCate Grass is the world’s biggest supplier of synthetic turf yarn and calls many of the tufting companies their customer. This includes companies that are in direct competition with Greenfields and Tigerturf, two tufting companies that are part of the TenCate Grass Group. In addition to owning tufting companies, TenCate Grass also lists contractors like CSC Sport in the Netherlands as part of its group. The company also owns companies or has involvement in companies elsewhere in Europe as well as North-America.