Bumble Bee agrees to plead guilty and pay millions for price fixing

Published on
May 9, 2017

Bumble Bee Foods has agreed to plead guilty to one count of price fixing as well as pay a USD 25 million (EUR 22.8 million) fine for its alleged role in conspiring to set the cost of canned and pouched tuna in the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a statement on 8 May. 

According to the Department of Justice, executives from Bumble Bee, Thai Union Group’s Chicken of the Sea and StarKist – known collectively as the “big three” because, combined, the companies own 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. multibillion-dollar packaged tuna industry – all took part in meetings between 2011 and 2013 that involved discussions and strategizing around how “to fix, raise, and maintain the prices of packaged seafood” in the United States. 

This latest development marks the third charge to be filed in relation to the price-fixing case, and the first to be brought against a corporate defendant, said acting assistant attorney general Andrew Finch – back in December 2016, two executives from Bumble Bee pled guilty to individual charges correlating with the case. The executives, Walter Scott Cameron and Kenneth Worsham, are currently on paid leave from the company, Reuters reported

“Today’s charge is the third to be filed – and the first to be filed against a corporate defendant – in the antitrust division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of packaged seafood,” said Finch in a statement.  “The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold these companies and their executives accountable for conduct that targeted a staple in American households."

As of now, Bumble Bee is prepared to pay  a USD 25 million (EUR 22.8 million) fine, but if the company is sold, that amount could rise to as a much as USD 81.5 million (74.8 million), according to the Department of Justice. The deal in its entirety is subject to court approval, authorities confirmed. 

Jill Irvin, Senior Vice President of General Counsel for Bumble Bee, remarked upon the company’s ongoing cooperation with federal officials, and its commitment to improving internal policies to re-establish itself as a trusted canned and packaged seafood source in the United States.  

“Bumble Bee, through a plea agreement, has reached resolution with the Department of Justice in regards to its federal antitrust investigation,” Irvin said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “The Company has taken this matter very seriously and fully cooperated with the DOJ from the start of the investigation. We have established strong guidelines and new internal policies for our path forward, which is being overseen by a chief compliance officer that we hired last fall. We accept full responsibility for needing to earn back any lost trust in our Company and will do so by acting with integrity and transparency in every way we operate our business.”

Bumble Bee was to be sold to Thai Union Group back in 2014, but the deal was called off by Lion Capital and Thai Union after the Department of Justice halted proceedings, and the parties concluded that they would be unable to receive anti-trust clearance for the sale.  

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