The Act is due to come into force on 1 July following recently published guidance from the Government to give firms a better understanding of where they stand – but has this shed enough light on what could still be a subjective matter?
1. Who is affected by the criminal offences section of the Bribery Act?
The criminal offences that the Act will introduce will affect businesses of all kinds, both private sector and public sector. Essentially, anyone carrying out an economic activity in the UK will be caught by the Act and a serious breach could result in a 10-year imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine and/or a prohibition from tendering for public contracts.
2. When is corporate entertainment bribery?
Corporate entertainment is a commonplace part of most industries and is itself a large industry. People will have to be proportionate with the entertaining they do and judge circumstances carefully or they could fall foul of the Act. What may seem to be a reasonable ‘thank you’ event to a valued customer or contact may seem like a bribe for someone you hope to gain business from. However, the new guidelines do emphasise a ‘common sense approach’ to complying with the legislation.
3. What policies need to be put in place to ensure that gifts and entertaining aren’t classed as bribery?
Many public sector organisations and multi-national corporations already have policies on gifts and entertaining. The Serious Fraud Office guidance suggests businesses should have written policies to cover gifts, hospitality, facilitation payments, political contributions and lobbying activities. We are also told that the authorities will themselves take a ‘proportionate’ stance when investigation and prosecuting and by that we understand that the usual Christmas drinks or a day at the races should not be caught.
But in the days when the Government claims to be looking to ease the burden on business, the devil will lie in the detail. The organisers of London 2012 Olympics are charging an astonishing £4500 for some seats at the opening and closing ceremonies and at some of the top events and ‘prestige’ seats, the very ones likely to be wanted for a hospitality event, can only be bought in blocks of ten. As additional events have to be booked at the same time, corporate hosts could, literally, be paying six figure sums for relatively modest numbers of tickets.
Clearly, many businesses are not in that league. But for those who are, and want to impress by being part of the biggest sporting occasion in the UK since 1966, the question arises – at what point does being part of a six figure corporate package look like being a bribe?