Never thought you could be guilty of bribery? Think again.

The Bribery Act 2010 will come into force on 1 July 2011 and will introduce changes in the law that could significantly impact the conduct of businesses, both in the UK and abroad.

The Act is very wide in scope and extends the crime of bribery to cover all private sector transactions, including gifts, sponsorship and hospitality, as well as creating a new strict liability offence of corporate failure to prevent bribery. A company (or partnership) will only have a defence to this if it can show ‘adequate procedures’ were in place to prevent bribery.

The Ministry of Justice has today published a guidance note to accompany the Act on the safeguards businesses can put in place to prevent bribery. The guidance works through a number of case studies but is not exhaustive. The government has provided assurances that it is not the intention of the Act to frustrate normal business practices of corporate entertainment, but with penalties extending to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine, companies and individuals have 3 months to ensure their anti-corruption procedures are sufficiently robust to mitigate the risk of committing an offence under the Act.

It is advisable to:

  • Appoint a member of senior management to be responsible for overseeing anti-corruptionwithin the organisation.
  • Undertake a risk assessment to fully understand the bribery risks you face.
  • Revise disciplinary procedures to include the definition of what is considered to be bribery under the Act and that employees will be disciplined for any acts of bribery (including requesting or accepting bribes).
  • Where corporate gifts and hospitality are common place, develop and implement a gifts and hospitality policy providing guidance to employees relating to the giving and receiving of gifts and entertainment. Consider putting in place a gifts and hospitality register.
  • Train staff on anti-corruption especially those involved in processing payments or who travel abroad for business to parts of the world where there is a culture of bribery.
  • Ensure that there are effective 'whistleblowing' procedures for any employee to report incidents or allegations of bribery, as well as a procedure for the thorough investigation of any such allegations.
  • Lead from the top and ensure your highest levels of staff are at the forefront of fostering a culture in which bribery is unacceptable.

Although this may seem a little onerous, the law is getting tougher and without adequate procedures, your company will be exposed. Acting now is the safest way to protect your business.