The government has been clamping down on bribery, but many companies are at risk of being accused without even knowing it.
You can receive up to 10 years in prison as per the Bribery Act 2010 if found guilty of giving or receiving bribes, proving that a little proactivity can go a long way in keeping your business bribe-free.
According to Aziz Rahman, a senior partner at corporate crime defence firm Rahman Ravelli, many organisations are failing to adequately brief their staff on what does and doesn’t constitute a bribe.
“Even though it’s common for people to accept bribes without realising it, ignorance is never a suitable defence,” says Rahman.
“By granting additional funding to the Serious Fraud Office to aid its investigation into accusations of bribery at Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), the Government recently demonstrated that it is stepping up its attempts to prevent this kind of wrongdoing.”
Here are top tips from a leading lawyer to make sure your business isn’t unwittingly accepting bribes.
Should you really be accepting that gift?
“Much depends on the timing. If your staff are receiving gifts right at the time that you’re about to award contracts, alarm bells should be ringing,” Rahman warns.
It doesn’t have to be big, expensive gifts either. Sometimes an accumulation of small gifts over time can be interpreted as bribery.
On a very small scale, if a student buys their room cleaner a box of chocolates to say thank you for doing a good job, this is fine. If this is then followed up with similar gifts as a means of “sweetening the cleaner up” so they’ll clean the person’s room first, this can be classed as bribery.
“Charge it to my expense account”
The Financial Conduct Authority is putting the squeeze on companies that use perks like tickets to sporting events, or big meals out as a form of bribery.
According to Rahman, businesses should ask:
- Is the hospitality timed to coincide with a business decision being made?
- Is it the first time the person has offered such hospitality?
- Is it being offered only to the people who are making a particular business decision?
If the answer to all these is yes, it could be considered bribery.
Be wary if it’s free
“It may be that you or your colleagues need some extra workplace resources,” Rahman theorises.
“If a current or potential client offers to provide any of this for free or at a reduced rate, you have to ask why they are making this offer.”
Scenario: you’re looking to procure some new technology services. While you’re still in the decision-making process, one of the vendors has offered to provide your staff with some free equipment.
Is this a gesture of goodwill to cement a strong relationship, or is it a bribe? The answer is definitely not black or white.
Are they really doing you a favour?
Even well-intentioned favours could be take on a darker meaning when audited.
“Someone offering to sort out a problem, give free advice or put you in touch with someone who can help can all be favours offered with the best intentions,” Rahman adds. “But these are not favours if the person giving them expects something specific in return.”
It comes to timing. Is the favour linked to any business decision?
Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between a “nice turn” and a bribe. Again, timing is key.
Do “mates’ rates” exist or is it just an elaborate bribe?
“Everyone loves a bargain. Often people doing business with each other tend to ‘look after’ each other. This can be a genuine attempt to help out an acquaintance. But it could also be bribery,” Rahman continues.
If you’re receiving goods or services for a knock-down price, you need to make sure everyone in management is aware of this, and ensure there’s nothing untoward happening.
Learn how to spot examples of bribery in your business, and where you should turn to if you are accused of wrongdoing.