Five questions answered on Nestle and Mars price fixing charge

Hershey also involved.

Canadian authorities have charged chocolate giants Nestle and Mars, along with several independent wholesale distributors, over alleged chocolate price fixing. We answer five questions on the charges.

Why have the Canadian authorities charged Nestle and Mars?

The Canadian Competition Bureau, based in Ottawa, say the have uncovered evidence that Nestle and Mars fixed the price of chocolate, which is a criminal offence.

The bureau uncovered the alleged offences through its immunity scheme, whereby the first person to disclose an offence may receive immunity from persecution, providing they cooperate fully.

The bureau charged Nestle Canada, Mars Canada, and the distributors ITWAL.

Are any other chocolate companies involved in the scandal?

Yes, the Canadian division of US confectionary company Hershey is said to have cooperated in the bureau’s five-year long investigation into the alleged price fixing offences. Because of the company’s cooperation they are expected to be treated with leniency.

In a statement Hershey blamed ex-employees for the offences:

"The current Hershey Canada senior management team as well as The Hershey Company and its management had no involvement in this conduct," the statement said.

What has Mars Canada said about the allegations?

In a statement the company said:

"Mars Canada intends to vigorously defend itself against these allegations. It is Mars Canada's policy not to comment on pending litigation and we are therefore unable to make any additional comments in relation to this matter, which is now before the court."

What has the Canadian competition Bureau said about the case?

"We are fully committed to pursuing those who engage in egregious anti-competitive behaviour that harms Canadian consumers," said John Pecman, Interim Commissioner of Competition, speaking to the BBC.

"Price-fixing is a serious criminal offence and today's charges demonstrate the Competition Bureau's resolve to stop cartel activity in Canada," he added.

Have any individuals also been charged as part of the investigation?

Yes. Robert Leonidas, the former chief executive of Nestle Canada; Sandra Martinez, former Nestle Canada president and David Glenn Stevens, president and chief executive ITWAL Limited have all been charged and, if convicted, face up to five years in prison. The companies and executives could each be fined up to £6.5m ($10m).

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.