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In business economics, what is the difference between cooperation and collusion?

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 4 Sept 2023

Cooperation and collusion are similar concepts, but they have important differences. Here are the main distinctions:

  • Cooperation involves two or more companies working together for mutual benefit, without breaking any laws or engaging in anti-competitive behavior. For example, two companies might collaborate on research and development to create a new product.
  • Collusion, on the other hand, involves secret or illegal agreements between companies to engage in anti-competitive behavior, such as price fixing or market allocation. Collusion is often done in order to gain an unfair advantage over competitors or to increase profits at the expense of consumers.

Here is some more detail on the difference between cooperation and collusion:


  1. Definition: Cooperation in business economics refers to legitimate and legal forms of collaboration or coordination among firms in the marketplace. It can be voluntary and often involves agreements or partnerships designed to achieve mutual benefits without violating competition laws.
  2. Purpose: Firms cooperate with each other to achieve specific goals, such as improving efficiency, reducing costs, sharing resources, or enhancing product quality. The primary focus is on mutual benefit and achieving common objectives while remaining within the bounds of legal and ethical business practices.
  3. Examples:
    • Strategic Alliances: Companies may form strategic alliances to jointly develop new technologies, share distribution networks, or enter new markets. For instance, airlines may cooperate through code-sharing agreements that allow passengers to book flights on partner airlines.
    • Supply Chain Collaboration: Firms often cooperate with suppliers and distributors to optimize their supply chain operations, reduce lead times, and enhance product availability.
  4. Legality: Cooperation is typically legal and is encouraged in competitive markets, as it can lead to efficiency improvements and consumer benefits.


  1. Definition: Collusion refers to an illegal and often secretive agreement or understanding among competing firms in the same industry to manipulate market outcomes, such as prices or production levels. Collusion aims to reduce competition and increase joint profits at the expense of consumers.
  2. Purpose: The primary purpose of collusion is to coordinate actions that limit competition, increase prices, restrict output, or allocate market share among colluding firms. Collusion is often done covertly to avoid detection by antitrust authorities.
  3. Examples:
    • Price Fixing: Firms in an industry may collude to fix prices at artificially high levels, ensuring that they all benefit from higher profits.
    • Market Division: Colluding firms may agree to divide markets or customers among themselves, reducing competition in certain geographic regions or customer segments.
    • Production Quotas: Colluding firms might limit their production or output to maintain scarcity and keep prices high.
  4. Legality: Collusion is illegal in most countries and is considered a violation of antitrust or competition laws. Antitrust authorities actively investigate and prosecute collusive behavior to protect competition and consumers.

In summary, the key difference between cooperation and collusion lies in their legality and purpose. Cooperation involves legal and legitimate forms of collaboration among firms with the aim of mutual benefit within the boundaries of competition laws.

Collusion, on the other hand, involves illegal and secretive agreements among competing firms to manipulate market outcomes and reduce competition, often to the detriment of consumers. While cooperation can enhance competition and efficiency, collusion undermines competition and consumer welfare.

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