It should come as no surprise that a UK company or partnership can be criminally liable if it pays a bribe to gain business. You might not be aware, however, that a business also commits a criminal offence if a person ‘associated with it’ bribes another person for the benefit of the business.
The Bribery Act 2010 introduced such an offence under the heading of ‘failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery’ although there is a defence against the charge if the business has put in place ‘adequate procedures’ designed to prevent persons associated with them from bribing others on their behalf. A suitably broad term, ‘persons associated with a business’ includes employees and agents of the business, and may also include distributors, contractors and suppliers.
Recently, the government took a survey of small and medium-sized businesses that are currently exporting or planning to export to examine the awareness and impact of the Bribery Act.
Just over half had heard of the Bribery Act. Most of those that were aware of the Act knew of the offence of corporate failure to prevent bribery, and that the provisions apply to business conducted abroad as well as in the UK. The findings revealed that a lot of businesses were not aware of the Bribery Act and what it means.
Many of the businesses that were aware of the Act did not know of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidance published to help them understand what they can do to prevent persons associated with them from bribing.
The government wants businesses to consider the impact of the Bribery Act but also to take a proportionate, pragmatic and low-cost approach to winning business without bribery. As such, if there is no risk of bribery on your behalf you do not need to put bribery prevention procedures in place – although it is worth looking at a ‘quick start guide’ issued by the MoJ to get an idea of the type of action you could take.
For advice about assessing the risk of bribery in your business, contact your RfM advisor.