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Hanson warned over cement market data breach

26 Nov 20 Building materials producer Hanson UK has received a slap on the wrist from the competition watchdog for apparently inadvertently releasing market sensitive information to its trade association.

Hanson bagged cement products
Hanson bagged cement products

Hanson UK is a member of the Mineral Products Association (MPA), whose subscription fees are calculated on a "tonnes delivered” basis.

On 11th September 2020 Hanson made a payment in error to the MPA which involved three pieces of information being sent to the MPA accounts team:

  • a payment relating to MPA subscription fees
  • remittance advice, which is automatically sent by Hanson’s accounts system for all payments
  • an invoice related to the above payment, as a result of the MPA querying the payment.

Although an otherwise innocent administrative error, the Competition & Markets Authority intervened because the information supplied by Hanson to the MPA could have been useful to any competitors represented on the MPA board who might have access to it.

Sharing market information about cement, such as how many tonnes you produced last year, contravenes the Cement Market Data Order 2016, put in place to prevent anti-competitive collusion between suppliers.

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Alistair Thompson, CMA director for remedies, business and financial analysis has written to Hanson UK’s commercial director this week, saying: “The CMA finds that Hanson has breached Article 3.2 of the Order by disclosing Individual Cement Market Data to the MPA.”

However, the CMA is persuaded that nothing untoward was going on and Hanson has voluntarily put in place systems to ensure that it won’t happen again.

“Although prohibited data was provided to the MPA accounts team, we have been told that procedures within the MPA, and the prompt action taken by Hanson on becoming aware of the error, prevented further disclosure within the MPA,” Mr Thomson writes. “In particular, these procedures prevented disclosure of this information to MPA board members, and therefore removed any risk of other cement producers having access to this data.”

The letter concludes: “Given the comprehensive nature of Hanson’s approach to preventing a recurrence, the CMA does not consider it appropriate to take formal enforcement action at this time. The CMA will monitor Hanson’s compliance closely in future.”

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