Beware those giving and receiving gifts

The season of hospitality and gift-giving is upon us – a good time to make sure your anti-bribery policy is effective and understood.

Gifts and hospitality are an important aspect of business life, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with them. It’s only when they could be seen as bribes that problems arise. Under the UK’s Bribery Act you need to take care when gifts and hospitality become ‘lavish’. The question is, when is that?

Different industries may have different norms, Formula 1 is a very different environment from the public sector, for example. So where you draw the line between an acceptable gift or invitation and an unacceptable one can be tricky to establish. With the festive season drawing near, this is a key time of year when staff can face difficult judgment calls

Every organisation needs to have clear policies about the type of gift that can be offered or accepted (value and nature – for example, some may prohibit alcohol). Gifts over a certain value may be required to be handed over for a raffle, the proceeds going to charity. However, such policies aren’t infallible. If someone receives a £100 bottle of wine, they could be tempted to keep it – handing over for the raffle a much cheaper bottle bought from the local supermarket.

Training staff on anti-bribery policies is essential, and ideally the results should be tested. E-learning packages that include a test at the end are worthwhile, that way you know that people really understand how the policy works. If something goes wrong later – say they accept a gift they shouldn’t have – they can’t claim not to have realised it was wrong.

Many organisations maintain registers of gifts offered and received. One expert in countering fraud and corruption suggests also keeping record of gifts offered but declined. This intelligence could, at worst, indicate cases of attempted bribery, but it could also suggest where a simple culture clash is occurring – one that could cause unrest among staff. For example, in one local authority six individuals had all been offered a trip to a Ferrari factory by a supplier. None were budget holders or could influence contract decisions, but still all had to turn down the offer. In this case, the people offering the trip simply wanted an excuse to visit the factory themselves, as was allowed in their organisation. They were not attempting to influence management decisions, but if the local authority heard about the offers earlier, it could have explained to the supplier its policy on gifts and hospitality and prevented so many of its staff being upset.

For any advice on your own anti-bribery policies and procedures, please get in touch.


John Baker

Related links

Fraud & Bribery