Corporate Gifts – The Ethical Question of Business or Bribery

With the festive season almost upon us and the long-standing tradition of sending corporate invitations and gifts, many business owners will find themselves considering which token or gesture of goodwill is appropriate; and which would fall foul of the UK Bribery Act, 2010.

The Bribery Act encompasses, among other things, crimes of offering a bribe, of receiving a bribe and the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery on its behalf.

A Wikipedia description of the Act calls it, “the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world.”

Its Just a Christmas Gift

Even nominal-value gifts can create the perception of influence. In broad terms a bribe can be defined as something given or received, intended to induce someone to behave in a manner which breaches an expectation that they would act impartially, in good faith or in accordance with a position of trust.

Gifts and hospitality should be viewed in a similar light as a conflict of interest. If acceptance of them is likely to compromise the impartiality of you or your firm, or if they offer the impression of doing so, they should not be accepted.

Prevention better than Prosecution

Transparency and openness is important when giving or receiving gifts or hospitality. You’ll need to know what your firm’s policy and procedures are, as well the legal provisions, and follow them. For most companies the risk of harm to their credibility is not worth the risk and they ban all business gifts to employees.

An employer:

  • Should have an anti-corruption policy in place
  • Should provide training to senior staff and directors, and anyone in a position of influence, to ensure that they adhere to the standards within the policy
  • Should monitor partners, suppliers and anyone acting on behalf of the company, to ensure that adequate anti-corruption measures are in place, and regularly review the policy

An employee:

  • Should not accept a gift that is unreasonable, inappropriate or disproportionate
  • Should not accept a high value gift
  • Should consider the timing of a gift –g. is it being offered close to the awarding of a contract or tender?
  • Should consider whether the gift has a genuine business purpose

Genuine Promotion or Improvement

In some organisations, all gifts received must be declared and recorded in a register.

Common sense usually applies. Any reasonable or proportionate business, promotional or hospitality expense given or received with the intention of genuinely promoting or improving your firm’s image may be considered an acceptable part of doing business. The watchword here is Transparency.

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