The EU has fined a group of industrial thread makers €43.5 million for deploying a price-fixing cartel.

The fines were announced by the EU's executive body the EC and followed a set of raids started in 2001 which showed 11 companies from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Britain and Switzerland had agreed deals for price increases and target prices.

Companies involved, which make thread used in goods including clothes, shoes, furniture and car seats, will be severely penalised for their involvement, whatever level that might have been, the EC said.

The EC uncovered three different cartels in the industrial thread market: one in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Nordic countries, one in the UK, and one in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

UK-based company Coats Ltd has been landed with the biggest fine, at €15m, with Germany's Amann und Sohne also being landed with a hefty charge.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Cartel behavior is illegal and unjustifiable, and will be punished severely… I will not allow consumers to be denied the benefits of the single market by companies carving up markets between themselves.''

According to EU law, the EC can fine businesses that engage in price-fixing up to 10 per cent of annual sales.