Justice Dept. to Take on Exploitation of Supply Chain Issues

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department is launching a new initiative aimed at identifying companies that exploit supply chain disruptions in the U.S. to make increased profits in violation of federal antitrust laws.

The program, being unveiled Thursday by the Justice Department's antitrust division and the FBI, comes amid ongoing supply chain struggles and labor shortages in the U.S. that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Justice Department lawyers worry that companies may "seek to exploit supply chain disruptions for their own illicit gain," the department said. And, if that's the case, the Justice Department and the FBI will prosecute antitrust violations they uncover, the department says.

Those violations could include agreements between individuals and businesses to fix prices or wages or to rig bids, prosecutors say.

The U.S. government also has formed a working group focused on supply chain collusion -- meant to share intelligence and detect global schemes -- with officials in several other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

"Temporary supply chain disruptions should not be allowed to conceal illegal conduct," said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who runs the Justice Department's antitrust division. "The Antitrust Division will not allow companies to collude in order to overcharge consumers under the guise of supply chain disruptions."