Time to tackle UK Bribery Act

Businesses can no longer afford to close their eyes to the full implications of the UK Bribery Act

July 2012 will mark one year since the UK Bribery Act came into effect, yet many businesses are still struggling to come to grips with this important legislation. In fact, according to our recent survey of 1,000 UK middle managers, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of those questioned had never heard of the Bribery Act. More worrying still, of the 28 per cent who had heard of the act, only just over half felt they had received adequate training to ensure compliance.

These results were surprising to say the least, since the Bribery Act 2010 has been specifically designed to provide UK businesses with a clear legal framework to combat bribery, both in the UK and internationally. As such, the obvious question is: why are so many businesses continuing to turn a blind eye to the Bribery Act?

One theory is that the lack of any high-profile cases in the media may have lulled organisations into a false sense of security, since very few cases have actually made it into the headlines. As a result, many businesses may be overlooking the urgency of ensuring that they are compliant with the act.

Another possibility is that businesses are underestimating the ­potential for bribery within their ­organisation, or perhaps simply do not feel sufficiently educated to
give their staff adequate guidance.

In any case, with the first anniversary of the Bribery Act just two months away, the lack of engagement at managerial level is particularly alarming given they are the individuals most likely to be making day-to-day decisions where bribery might come into play, or who will be relied on to spot red flags in a company.

To address this issue, UK businesses need to ramp up their compliance procedures and training very quickly to ensure that adequate anti-bribery policies are put in place. For example, all firms will need to ­publish clear written policies regarding any gifts, expenses or hospitality that might influence or be seen to ­influence their business dealings in any way.

Of course, setting up these policies is only the first step. Firms will also need to ensure that these policies are followed and enforced, and that ­employees are given the training they need to comply with these rules. After all, ignorance of the law will not be accepted as a defence against any breaches.

The UK Government has often been criticised for failing to take ­action over bribery in the past, but much greater attention is now being given to this area. Last year a judge sent two former executives to prison for making illegal payments to the Iraq government in violation of UN sanctions, while fraud investigators and police officers arrested three UK directors of an engineering firm over allegations concerning bribes being paid to ­secure contracts abroad.

As such, any UK businesses that think they can simply ignore the Bribery Act really do so at their peril. Just because these prosecutions are not happening on a daily basis should not lull firms into a false sense of security when it comes to complying with the act.