My daughter tells me that the Bribery Act is trending on Twitter today – a sign either that teen-aged kids have suddenly developed an interest in compliance matters, or that the corporate world has made yet another stride forward in its never ending game of catch-up with the latest media trends. However, it’s also a sign that something which started out as a dry piece of business-related legislation has become a hot topic for many companies, who have become increasingly alarmed as the implications of the new law have become clearer. Today is B-Day (not “bidet”, for the benefit of any bathroom designers who may be reading this blog) and the full provisions of the Act have finally come into force, after several delays for consultation and the provision of guidelines by the Government. All very alarming, but what does it really mean in practice?
Well, one of the things that the new law does is to define Bribery for the first time – you will perhaps not be suprised to hear that the definition involves offering, giving, soliciting or receiving something of value in return for doing something that is “illegal, unethical or a breach of trust” – but, from a corporate point of view, the most alarming aspects of this new piece of legislation are the penalties. Individuals can be imprisoned for up to ten years and fined unlimited amounts, whilst companies can be fined, debarred from EU contracts, forced to appoint (and pay for) an independent Monitor and find themselves relieved of any profits that may derive from an act of bribery. Company Directors should also take note that there has been much muttering, in Government circles, about senior staff being made accountable for the acts of anyone working on the companies’ behalf; it will not be a valid defence to plead ignorance of others’ activities if you haven’t taken pro-active steps to prevent corrupt acts being carried out by them.
So – if you haven’t yet started to work on adequate procedures to prevent your colleagues and agents from offering “incentives” in brown envelopes, or arranging attendance at suspiciously agenda-lite business meetings in tropical golfing resorts, now is the time to get your act together. The law is up and running and – trust me on this – you really don’t want to find your business acting as a case study for future students of the Law.