Pioneer apologises for anti-competitive behaviour

Newly appointed Pioneer Foods Group chairperson Zitulele KK Combi on Monday vowed to “turn a page” and commit to the principles of transparent, competitive behaviour and cooperate fully with the regulators.

Pioneer recently confirmed that it had received notification from the Competition Commission that it had referred its investigation into the wheat milling market to the Competition Tribunal for adjudication. Pioneer Foods is named as a respondent in the case together with other industry participants.

The commission recommended an administrative penalty of R1,6-billion or 10% of the 2009 annual group turnover of Pioneer Foods, although the referral refers to conduct up to the 2007 financial year, with respect to the company’s alleged transgressions of the Competition Act in the wheat milling market.

The Competition Tribunal also imposed a penalty of R195-million on Pioneer Foods for its involvement in a bread cartel.

Speaking at a press conference in Cape Town, Combi said: “I will personally engage the Competition Commission authorities to try to settle the matters amicably, if at all possible, and will ensure that Pioneer Foods continues to cooperate fully with the regulators.

“Although Pioneer Foods is justly proud of its contribution to broadening consumer choice in key market segments, ironically its biggest criticism, and may I say misstep to date, is the fact that it was found to have participated in anti-competitive activities. I do not, however, want to justify any actions, as any contravention remains unacceptable and is an offence to the public at large.

“I apologise unequivocally on behalf of Pioneer Foods for such behaviour,” the new chair said.

‘We commit ourselves anew’
Combi also apologised for the fact that a settlement of various matters was not more successfully pursued earlier, “which may have settled matters sooner”.

“Today we turn a page and commit ourselves anew, as board and management, to the principles of transparent, competitive behaviour and the sustainable growth of our business for the benefit of all stakeholders,” Combi said.

Pioneer noted that its old board and management had already introduced certain training programmes and actions to educate employees and to prevent any anti-competitive activities. “The new board will continue with this approach and engage all stakeholders to settle the Competition Commission matter as soon as possible in an amicable fashion in order to allow management to focus on its business and to move forward in realising the company’s exciting growth potential,” the group said.

“It is the board’s mission to be a good corporate citizen and to ensure that a culture of compliance is established through out the company. Any new contravention of the Competition Act will lead to immediate disciplinary action against the relevant employee. Past actions will also be evaluated where applicable.

“No company may act in a way that may be to the detriment of the consumer and I will ensure mechanisms are in place to prevent any such actions at Pioneer Foods,” Combi concluded.—I-Net Bridge

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