It will come as no surprise to many that a UK company or partnership can be criminally liable if it pays a bribe to gain business. It may be a surprise to know that a business 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’. There is, however, a defence against the offence if the business has put in place ‘adequate procedures’ designed to prevent persons associated with them from bribing others on their behalf.
‘Persons associated with a business’ is a broad term – it includes employees and agents of the business but may also include distributors, contractors and suppliers.
Recently, the government published a document looking at the awareness and impact of the Bribery Act among small and medium sized businesses. A survey of businesses which are currently exporting or planning to export was undertaken. Just over half of the businesses had heard of the Bribery Act. Most of those 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 results do mean that a lot of businesses are not aware of the Bribery Act. The survey also revealed that many of the businesses that were aware of the Bribery Act were not aware of the Ministry of Justice guidance published to help commercial organisations understand the procedures they can put in place to prevent persons associated with them from bribing.
The government wants businesses to consider the impact of the Bribery Act but also wants businesses to take a proportionate, pragmatic and low-cost approach to winning business without bribery. You do not need to put bribery prevention procedures in place if there is no risk of bribery on your behalf but it is worth looking at a ‘quick start guide’ issued by the Ministry of Justice to get an initial perspective of procedures you may need to put into place. We can also help you assess the risk of bribery in your business.