The festive season is well and truly upon us. Some of the common themes of this season are the giving, and receiving of, gifts and invitations to different parties and events. Often fraught with difficulty (will family members actually like their presents? Whose name will you pick in the office secret Santa? Can you re-wear a Christmas party outfit?) there is one important area that you cannot afford to ignore: the potential for gifts to act as bribes or inducements.
With generosity at peak levels, it can be sometimes be easy to get swept away. But not all invitations or gifts are given freely; some have strings attached. Bribery can involve offering, promising or giving an advantage (financial or other) to an individual to induce that individual to perform an improper action.
Offers of gifts or hospitality can be legitimate business practices, allowing relationships to be enhanced and built; but a line exists between appropriate business practice and illegal activity. There is a risk that a number of potential offences could be committed where gifts and hospitality are concerned.
High profile corruption cases involving senior executives and government officials deservedly get the most media coverage, but it’s important to remember that risks do not relate solely to corruption at the highest levels. Improper relationships between suppliers and buyers, including the giving of gifts of tickets to sports events, holidays, jewellery or the provision of services designed to influence another to behave outside their normal practice, are equally to be discouraged.
If you are offered, or are offering, gifts or entertainment this festive period there are a number of factors that you should keep in mind.
- Consider the appropriateness of the gift – is the annual bottle of wine a festive tradition, or is the expensive bottle of Champagne intended to ‘sweeten’ up a client who hasn’t quite made up their mind where to direct their business?
- Read your company’s internal policies and procedures. Who should you disclose the gift/entertainment too? Does it require referral to the compliance team? Does your line manager need to approve it? Are there limits to what you can give or receive?
- Does your company keep a record in a gift register?
- Is the gift in exchange for something? This could include favourable or preferential treatment.
- Is the timing appropriate? A seemingly innocent gift offered during a tender process could be seen in a different light.
- Is someone hiding a gift or keeping an invitation secret? This should be a clear red flag.
- Consider what other people may think of this gift. Would it cause embarrassment if the media found out? What would a competitor think?
- Particular attention should be paid to any gifts or hospitality given to public officials as the laws can be stricter.
- Last but not least, ensure you understand the bribery and corruption laws within the jurisdictions you operate in.
Gifts and hospitality are one way in which bribes can be paid, it’s imperative that you understand the bribery risks relating to your business and the industry you operate.