The gardening club cartel

Last month the Swiss air freight company Kuehne + Nagel International AG was fined just over NZ$3m (around £1.5m) by the New Zealand Commerce Commission for their part in a price fixing cartel that ran for 5 years.

In 2002 the firms in the industry faced higher costs due to increased security measures imposed by the British government. They formed a cartel to agree to pass these increased costs on to their customers for air freight services from the UK to a number of countries, including New Zealand. The investigation by the New Zealand competition authority followed a leniency application by one of the participants in 2007. Five other participants had previously been fined, but Kuehne + Nagel decided to fight the case. The fine imposed on them brought the total fines to almost NZ$12m (around £6m).

A previous post on this site highlighted how golf played a prominent role in several previous cartels. However, this cartel seemed to have had a fixation on gardening and referred to the cartel as the gardening club. Other parties involved in the cartel were referred to as fellow gardeners and the agreed upon price as the price for asparagus! When a participant suspected a rival may have cheated on the cartel agreement email exchanges such as this one took place:

I hear… concerns about the price of produce from the garden of Velcro, which appears to be operating as a charitable cooperative for the benevolence of vegetable eaters rather than growers…

It is not known whether the Kuehne + Nagel employees involved in the cartel were placed on gardening leave during the investigation!

‘Gardening Club’ hid hardcore air freight cartel New Zealand Herald, Hamish Fletcher (04/04/14)
‘Gardening Club’ Air Freight Forwarding Cartel Finally Buried by High Court Handy Shipping Guide (08/04/14)
Swiss firm fined $3.1 million over cartel 3 News (08/04/14)
‘Gardening Club’ freight cartel participant, Kuehne + Nagel, fined $3.1m The National Business Review (08/04/14)


  1. Why is an increase in costs likely to trigger price fixing behaviour?
  2. Why might the members want to use code names to run a cartel’s activities?
  3. Why do competition authorities grant leniency to cartel members that inform them about price fixing behaviour?