The UK Bribery Act came into force in 2011 and remains one of the toughest anti-bribery laws in the world. Although we’ve not seen the kind of high-profile prosecutions that were predicted, this legislation has been instrumental in driving improvements in bribery prevention in UK businesses.
However, bribery still remains a significant risk for organisations. Almost a quarter of UK businesses have experienced bribery and corruption since 2016, according to PwC’s Global Economic Crime Survey 2018.
Here are our best practice tips for reducing the risk of bribery in your company.
1. Establish clear anti-bribery policies
Most UK businesses have adopted anti-bribery policies - but it’s the way they are implemented that will make a difference. It’s critical that all staff understand what is and isn’t acceptable in relation to gifts, hospitality, donations, sponsorship and political donations. Your training programmes and guidelines need to clearly communicate your company’s rules and expectations so that appropriate behaviours are embedded.
Staff need to understand that any gift or hospitality they receive must have a legitimate business purpose, be proportionate, and declared in the company’s Gift and Hospitality Register. Be sure to clearly outline what is meant by ‘legitimate’ and ‘proportionate’ - don’t leave it open to interpretation.
When it comes to dealing with foreign public officials, make it clear that employees must not offer cash or anything of value to a foreign public official or anyone closely related to them, including charities or voluntary organisations run by their spouses.
Alongside training, establish processes that help them remember the do’s and don’ts, such as checklists and travel guidelines.
2. Set the right tone from the top
Staff awareness of anti-bribery policies is only half the story. Creating an anti-bribery culture needs a clear and consistent set of messages coming from the top.
Everyone from the board of directors, the business owner and the compliance function need to make it clear that they won't tolerate bribery and corruption and that anyone found guilty will face the highest sanctions.
However, the most vital thing is for people at the top to be seen to practice what they preach and believe in the importance of anti-bribery. Otherwise, staff won’t buy into the culture and any dialogue around anti-bribery training won’t be taken seriously.
3. Watch out for red flags
Non-compliance can manifest itself in both unintentional or deliberate acts. Of course, deliberate non-compliance is more alarming. But it can be easier to spot - as long as you’re watching. Red flags for deliberate non-compliance may include:
- Performing no service other than ‘facilitating’
- Abnormally-high fees or commission
- Insistence on urgency or confidentiality
- Having no track record
- Insistence on meetings without company representatives being present
- Requesting advance or cash payments, or requesting payment via third parties
An individual’s job can also heighten the risk of non-compliance. For example, those operating in a country or territory with perceived high corruption are likely to present more of a threat - whether or not the intent is there.
Identifying unintentional non-compliance is more difficult. But the good news is that preventing it is within your control. Training staff to make them aware of their responsibilities, the company’s expectations and the consequences of giving or receiving bribes is key.
4. Make training meaningful
Bribery prevention policies and procedures need to be embedded and understood by everyone in the organisation. This is where a good quality anti-bribery training programme is critical. Training needs to not only help people understand what is and isn’t acceptable - it must embed the appropriate behaviours.
With this in mind, it’s important that training is first personalised to your company. This means creating bespoke training content that uses your company name, policy names, terminology your company uses and so on.
But most importantly, it’s crucial to remember that your staff don’t need to know the intricate details of the Bribery Act, clauses and all. Instead, they need to understand the human impact of bribery and what their specific responsibilities are for helping to prevent bribery in everyday situations they may come across. This gives training real meaning, and staff will be much more likely to remember their duties and act in the right way.
5. Encourage staff to report concerns
Staff need an appropriate forum for expressing any concerns they have about actual or suspected bribery. Whistleblowing channels should be put in place and communicated effectively so all staff are aware of who to report concerns to and how.
It should also be made clear to employees that it's not their job to investigate any concerns they have, and that they should leave the investigation to the appropriate channels instead.
6. Conduct due diligence on all third parties
Anti-bribery laws also apply to all your third-parties, i.e. any agents, intermediaries, consultants and associates, and anyone else that represents you or act on your company’s behalf. You are responsible under the law for thoroughly checking and verifying these parties.
This means implementing adequate systems and controls to ensure third-parties are who they claim to be, have the appropriate credentials and are approved at the senior management level.
In conclusion, bribery is a very significant problem - one that can result in huge fines for companies and individuals and even imprisonment. The good news is that with clear anti-bribery policies, effective training, top-level commitment and appropriate processes in place for detecting and reporting acts of bribery, you can significantly reduce the risk of bribery in your organisation.