A Gauteng woman who helped break a price fixing cartel in the plastic pipes industry says she had acted out of obedience to God who challenged her through the Unashamedly Ethical movement.
The role of Michelle Harding, former managing director of Petzetakis, the biggest plastic pipe manufacturer in South Africa, in ending the cartel was commended by the Competition Tribunal in its ruling handed down this week.
“Enforcement against cartels requires more Hardings who are willing to take a moral stand and, as she put it in her testimony, ‘stop the cancer’” the Tribunal said in its ruling.
Harding’s actions secured an 80% discount for Petzetakis resulting in a penalty of R9,2 million for involvement in the cartel. Other companies involved in the cartel which had been operating for nearly four decades have had to pay penalties ranging from R2million to R31million. One of the guilty companies, DPI Plastics, received immunity from prosecution in terms of the Competition Commission’s corporate leniency policy.
In an interview with Radio Tygerberg yesterday, Harding said that God challenged her to do the right thing through a presentation she listened to by Graham Power, founder of Unashamedly Ethical, a Bible-based movement for promoting ethics, values and clean living.
“God told me to be obedient and to call the company that I was responsible for out of the cartel. It was difficult to be obedient because it was a long, hard, and sometimes very lonely road,” she said.
Challenge to business leaders
“God decided this week on a very public platform to vindicate me completely and I am using that platform to challenge other business leaders to clean up their act, personally, and in their companies ,and to stand up and be counted,” she said.
She challenged South African business leaders to visit the Unashamedly Ethical website and to join the movement. She said Unashamedly Ethical was “a movement for change in our nation away from corruption and delusion, and to a place where we will do business God’s way and in an ethical and lawful way”.
She urged South Africans not to give up on the country but to believe that God had a plan for the nation and that they were part of the plan.
“We must decide whether we want to remain spectators or whether we are willing to get off the seats and onto the field to start playing a part in changing this land,” she said.
According to the Tribunal’s decision, Harding, as the managing director of Petzetakis became increasingly uncomfortable with the collusive practices she had witnessed in the plastic pipes industry. Consequently she arranged “what turned out to be the most important of the meetings referred to in this case.” She invited several cartel members to a breakfast meeting and told them that Petzetakis and its subsidiaries would no longer participate in any collusive activities. She did the same within her own firm and took the necessary steps to ensure this outcome. The Tribunal remarked that Harding’s testimony “demonstrated that redemption is possible even in the most unlikely environments – an industry riddled with collusive practices, betrayal and deception”.
The Tribunal’s decision follows a hearing that took place on various days between 13 September 2010 and 20 April 2011 into an alleged plastic pipes cartel. The Competition Commission referred the complaint to the Tribunal for adjudication in February 2009 after it found that DPI Plastics, Marley Pipe Systems, Petzetakis Africa, Swan Plastics, Amitech South Africa, Flo-Tek Pipes & Irrigation, Andrag, Gazelle Plastics, Gazelle Engineering and MacNeil Agencies had meetings in which they fixed prices, rigged tenders and divided markets by allocating contracts and customers.
The full decision is available on the Tribunal’s website.