The Bribery Act has now been in force for more than five years, and most small business owners have at least some awareness of what it means and are conscious that they have a legal obligation to prevent bribery in their business.
But are you really clear on exactly what your responsibilities are and what you could be liable for? Here are our easy steps to understanding what impact the Bribery Act has on your business and what you need to look out for.
1. What exactly is ‘bribery’?
Bribery is not just about cash stuffed in envelopes, it’s about giving someone a financial or other advantage in order to encourage them to do something they shouldn’t. That would include trying to influence a decision-maker to give you a contract or similar.
2. When might my business be liable?
If someone senior in your business commits a bribery offence that would then be attributed to your business. Similarly if someone who provides services for your organisation, (like an employee, agent or consultant) commits bribery seeking to gain a business advantage for your organisation, your business would be liable unless you had adequate procedures in place to prevent that happening.
3. What do I need to do to defend myself against possible criminal action?
If you are a small business you probably have a low risk of bribery and the procedures you will need will be minimal as well. You need to think about the risks in your business, and although you hopefully did so when the Bribery Act came in in 2011, you may be a newer business or things may have changed, so it’s worth reviewing the situation regularly.
There are six principles you should think about to decide whether you need to change anything;
Proportionality – actions need only be proportionate to the risks you face and the size of your business. In a big company, or one which is operating in countries where bribery is commonplace, more would be required than in a small business operating solely in the UK.
Top Level Commitment – you need to make sure your management, staff and key people you do business with are clear you do not tolerate bribery.
Risk Assessment – have a think about the markets you operate in and the people you do business with and decide whether there is a risk of bribery.
Due Diligence – it’s common sense to make sure you know exactly who you are dealing with and make appropriate background checks before engaging anyone to represent your business.
Communication – make sure your staff and others who perform business on your behalf are aware of what’s required of them in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable behaviour, and what procedures you have that they need to follow.
Monitoring and review – keep an eye on things as the risks may change over time or if you enter new markets.
4. Do I need a Bribery Prevention Procedure?
We don’t tend to recommend procedures for the sake of it, so if you’re a small business with minimal or no risk of bribery, you may not need a specific procedure. You may operate solely in the UK and have very low risk, you may have enough control over budgets and expenditure to make a procedure unnecessary anyway, or may feel a statement of your commitment in this area combined with the other policies you have in place is sufficient.
It will depend on the nature of your business and of the marketplace in which you operate. For some businesses a specific procedure would be expected or justified, or indeed required by bigger businesses who are your clients.
5. Can I still send out chocolates at Christmas or take clients out for dinner?
It’s all about being ‘reasonable’ and doing things in proportion. So yes you can. If the hospitality or gifts in question are excessive and out-of-proportion that may be a problem as it may be considered a cover for bribery, particularly where the recipient has a lot of influence on a significant business decision. But low-level hospitality should be fine.
Be clear with staff about who is authorised to undertake this kind of hospitality and ensure it is proportionate and not linked to business decisions of those you are hosting.
If you’d like further advice on how the Bribery Act might affect your business do get in touch.