How to avoid falling foul of the Bribery Act

As part of the newly published feature Money can’t buy you love – which delves into the evolving world of business loyalty initiatives – I spoke to Aziz Rahman, founder of corporate crime defence specialists Rahman Ravelli, to find out how marketers can avoid falling foul of the Bribery Act (a more likely occurrence than you might think).

Unpacking the Act

The law was introduced by parliament in 2010 with the intention of banishing all manner of commercial skulduggery. The Act covers a broad church of leg-upping, as described in section one: “Giving or promising to give a financial or other advantage to another individual in exchange for improperly performing a relevant function or activity.” (This could encompass contracts, non-monetary gifts and offers of employment.)

Those who fail to comply run the risk of being detained for up to a decade under Her Majesty’s pleasure, could receive an uncapped fine, and have their commercial property confiscated. It all seems a bit steep, I know, but perhaps that’s why lawyer Brigid Breslin described it as “the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world”.

So, although bearing gifts and looking after valuable clients has always been a common practice in the business world, the legislation has put the approach under the unforgiving legal spotlight. Aziz stresses that companies need to be aware of bribery laws, because heightened awareness means gifts can easily be misinterpreted.

“It’s something that few businesses think about, but with the government cracking down on bribery it’s important that companies protect themselves by ensuring nothing untoward is happening within their organisation,” he explains. “A gift or perk can be construed as a bribe in certain circumstances. Much comes down to timing. Many people mistakenly believe that bribes have to be big and expensive, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.”

In light of this, Aziz outlines five steps to help businesses ensure they aren’t unwittingly accepting bribes:

1. Timing

If you’re receiving gifts at the time a contract is fit for renewal, alarm bells should start ringing. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive gifts either. Sometimes, an accumulation of small gifts over time can be interpreted as bribery.

2. Hospitality

The FCA is putting the squeeze on companies that use perks such as trips to sporting events or meals out as a means of bribery. 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.

3. Freebies

It may be that you or your colleagues need some extra workplace resources. 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.

4. Favours

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. But these are not favours if the person giving them expects something specific in return. Is the timing of the favour linked to any business decision?

The bottom line is that it’s not a favour if the person offering expects something specific in return. Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between a ‘nice turn’ and a bribe.

5. ‘Mates’ rates’

Most people are drawn to a bargain. And often people doing business with each other tend to ‘look after’ each other. While of course this can be a genuine attempt to help out an acquaintance, it could also be bribery.

If you’re receiving goods or services for a knock-down price, you need to flag it and ensure there’s nothing untoward happening.