Never look a gift-horse in the mouth?

The season of hospitality and gift-giving will soon be upon us, so make sure your anti-bribery policy and gifts and hospitality policies are up-to-date, effective and understood.

Gifts and hospitality are an important aspect of business life, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with them. However, under the UK’s Bribery Act you need to take care to ensure gifts and hospitality do not become ‘lavish’ to avoid any issues. The question is, how can you do that?

Different industries have different cultures and levels of what is defined or perceived as ‘lavish’. Formula 1 is a very different environment from the public sector, for example. While these are two extremes there are many grey areas, 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.

To make the position clear, 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 policies is essential, and ideally, the content acknowledged and 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.  Such an approach is just one factor in an organisation being able to demonstrate it has adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery.

Most organisations maintain registers of gifts offered and received. A third column for gifts offered to you but declined could provide really useful intelligence. 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 of them were budget holders or could influence contract decisions, and, fortunately, all declined the offer, but all were disgruntled by having to turn it down. In this case, the people offering the trip simply wanted an excuse to visit the factory themselves, as was allowed in their organisation, if they could persuade a potential client to accompany them. They were not attempting to influence procurement 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 how to ensure you have adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery, please get in touch.
 

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