Bribery is an unpleasant word. You may think, that as you are a small business, it is unlikely that you will bribe anyone, or that anyone will try to bribe you. Think again – the Bribery Act of 2010 has given a wide definition of bribery. The Act came into force in 2011, and as a business owner, you need to be aware of the main provisions, and how they might affect your conduct.
Worryingly, you will be liable for any bribery that may take place within your business. The bribe could be offered by an employee, a partner, or even someone acting on your behalf such as an agent. It is irrelevant whether you sanctioned the action, or were totally unaware of it, you will still be held accountable.
What does ‘bribery’ mean?
In terms of the Bribery Act, it means promising, offering, receiving or giving an advantage (financial or non-financial) in order to encourage someone to do something that they shouldn’t. Financial bribery is pretty obvious, but non-financial covers items such as gifts, discounts, holidays and even entertainment.
The Act doesn’t just cover transactions with public officials, such as civil servants or government employees either. The Act also covers business to business transactions.
Offering someone a bribe is an inducement for them to act corruptly in order to benefit yourself or your company. It makes no difference where your business is based, and where the person you are trying to bribe is located. The Act is couched in terms that meet the standards of integrity expected in the UK. This means that in areas of the globe where local custom and practice is to take and to offer bribes, you will still be breaking the law if you take part in the practice.
It is also irrelevant whether the bribe is actually delivered. The Act states that it is the intention to corrupt rather than the receipt or giving of the bribe – it is the conduct that counts, not the results.
What does it mean to me?
As a small business owner, you may want to thank a valued client for giving you an order, and reward them by taking them out for a meal. You may wish to reward a supplier for their excellent service by giving them a gift. Your customer or supplier may desire to acknowledge your own excellent performance via a paid holiday or a favourable discount on goods or services. You may decide to offer gifts in order to promote your business and gain orders.
These activities may not feel like bribery, but unless the gifts, discounts and entertainment are proportionate, the giver may fall foul of the Bribery Act. In reality, the gifts would need to be pretty lavish to render anyone liable to prosecution. The aim is not to ban corporate hospitality, but to reduce the possibility of corrupt behaviour. However, deciding what is and what is not proportionate can be tricky.
It is clearly vital for your own protection to understand the contents of the Act. The best protection is prevention. Putting in place watertight procedures to ensure you (and your employees and representatives) do not breach the Act is the best form of defence against a charge of bribery.
For guidance on the types of procedures you can implement to prevent bribery, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below and we will discuss the various options for you.