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HCR Law Events

4 June 2021

Nothing to worry about…?

If you run a small/medium sized business and have a relatively limited customer base/supply chain, you could be forgiven for thinking that your risks of falling victim to bribery are low. Indeed, they may be.

But the risks of bribery aren’t confined to large corporations; every business has a potential weak link in the form of the people it employs and the people it does business with. And as the burden on household income increases and expectations of employee performance rise, principles could just give way to temptation. Factor in that many are still working remotely, either in part or exclusively, and it must follow that there are more opportunities for the determined to put temptation in their way.

So, what should you do? As a business owner/manager, you have an obligation to ensure that adequate procedures are put in place to prevent bribery occurring in your organisation (so says the Bribery Act 2010).

What that means exactly depends on the characteristics of your business, and in particular on its size, structure, business model, market and supply chain, as these factors (amongst others) determine what risks your business faces. And what is adequate in that context depends on what is proportionate.

In practice, that means that many small businesses will assess their risk of exposure to bribery as low, and therefore relatively few or only low-level safeguards are required. But add in (for example) an international element to your supply chain/customer base, or a model which gives select individuals extensive discretion in procuring contracts, and the risk profile can start to increase. And do bear in mind that, as a business, you can be held responsible for the acts/omissions of employees, agents, contractors etc, even if you didn’t know about those acts/omissions at the time.

 

The steps you put into place in practice will be a matter for you to determine. Examples might include:

  • Updating your anti-bribery and corruption policy (or putting one in place if you don’t have one already) and ensuring your employees are familiar with it
  • Revisiting and circulating related policies, such as those dealing with gifts, hospitality and expenses
  • Incorporating clauses into employment contracts which confirm a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to bribery and set out expectations/requirements
  • Putting in place reporting procedures offering protection to whistle-blowers and also to ensure that those at the top of your organisation understand what risks the business faces and what is being done to manage those risks
  • Seeking assurances from existing and new suppliers that they too are taking appropriate steps to stamp out bribery in their own businesses and including anti-bribery provisions in your commercial contracts
  • Putting a second tier of controls in place to sign off high value transactions or contracts
  • Making sure that you have procedures in place which enable any suspected incidences of bribery to be investigated swiftly and effectively and, if necessary, reported.

 

These steps are simple and low-cost to take. Bearing in mind that the consequences of getting it wrong can be serious, this hassle/limited expense will be a good investment. With the potential for civil and criminal sanctions for your business, but also for the individuals within it, you can’t afford to side-line this or ignore the need for safeguards.

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About the Author
Clare Murphy, Partner

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