February 08, 2022

Warren Calls On DOJ to Take Aggressive Action to Enforce Antitrust Laws As Giant Corporations Raise Consumer Prices to Highest Levels in Decades

“As demand has increased and supply chains have buckled during the economic recovery, it has allowed companies that have obtained market power using illicit means to raise prices for consumers who are faced with corporate monopolies.” 

“It is imperative that corporate executives who engage in criminal antitrust activity like price-fixing be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law rather than receive a slap on the wrist.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco calling on the DOJ to take more aggressive action against corporations violating antitrust laws to hike prices for consumers.  In the letter, Senator Warren called out major poultry firms, big pharmaceutical companies, and other industries notorious for their price-fixing schemes, that have received only ineffectual penalties for their criminal antitrust activity. Senator Warren is urging the DOJ to prosecute executives engaging in price-fixing and other anticompetitive practices to help relieve the burden Americans are feeling from inflation rising to its highest level in decades, driven by companies passing along high costs and jacking up prices to pad their bottom line. 

“The nation is dealing with inflation at its highest level in decades, much of it driven by corporate greed and anticompetitive behavior, and the federal government must use every tool available to prevent price gouging and reduce prices for Americans. Antitrust policy plays a vital role in protecting consumers from anti-competitive practices that lead to higher prices, and no practice has a more direct effect on prices than price-fixing,” said Senator Warren. 

The Sherman Act makes price-fixing and other forms of collusion illegal. However, over the last several decades, lack of competition and increased concentration in the American economy have created the conditions for collusion to fester. The DOJ itself has observed that the “fewer the number of sellers, the easier it is for them to get together and agree on prices.” From 1997 to 2012, 75% of all industries became more consolidated.

Senator Warren previously sent a letter to the DOJ raising alarms about price-fixing in the poultry industry. Tyson recently agreed to pay $4.6 million to resolve claims that it was involved in a “Turkey cartel” that implicated other companies such as Cargill, Perdue Farms, and Butterball LLC. In January 2021, Tyson also agreed to pay $221.5 million to settle allegations over broiler-chicken price-fixing. Other major poultry firms have faced similar allegations. Price fixing in the poultry industry has hit customers square in their wallets, resulting in a nearly 50% increase in the price of broiler chickens, cheating American families out of approximately $330 each year, according to one lawsuit.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are responsible for colluding with manufacturers and conspiracy to fix drug prices alongside competitors, yet the DOJ has not prosecuted executives to the fullest extent. Often when the DOJ secures settlements, none of the criminal executives are likely to see any time in prison, even though they confessed to illegally scamming the government and patients in need of drugs.

“For corporations and their billionaire executives, all too often, crime pays. It is unconscionable that we appear to have two tracks of criminal justice in this country: one for the wealthy and powerful, and one for everyone else. Failure to enforce price-fixing and antitrust laws has a grave economic cost: as demand has increased and supply chains have buckled during the economic recovery, it has allowed companies that have obtained market power using illicit means to raise prices for consumers who are faced with corporate monopolies. I share Deputy Attorney General Monaco’s concern that absent tough and effective enforcement of antitrust laws, our current system perpetuates a belief among corporations that fines and settlements are just the cost of doing business,” continued Senator Warren.

As a champion for American consumers and a secure and healthy economy, Senator Warren has continued oversight of corporations for their role in jacking up prices for consumers as Americans face record-high, economy-wide inflation. 

  • In January 13, 2022, Senator Warren questioned Federal Reserve nominee Lael Brainard about market concentration and price gouging driving inflation.
  • At a hearing in January, Senator Warren pressed Fed Chair Jerome Powell on the role of corporate concentration in driving up prices for consumers during his renomination hearing to be Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
  • In December 2021, Senator Warren called on Secretary Raimondo to use CHIPS for America Act funding to push back against industry consolidation in the semiconductor industry, address supply-chain resiliency, and bolster competitiveness in the industry. The global chip shortage has resulted in significant price increases for American families and contributed to the recent increases in inflation, as well as job losses due to auto plant shutdowns.