Last week I went along to Confex 2012, for those that don’t know Confex is a large exhibition aimed predominately at event organisers. During this year’s event the powers that be put on a PA day which along with the exhibition including specific training sessions for PAs. Although I have already attended a training course on Financial Crime through work I thought I’d refresh my memory and go along to a session on the Bribery Act and how it specifically affects Assistants. I found the talk really useful and thought I would share my new-found knowledge with you.

What is the Bribery Act?

The Act came into force in July 2011 and states that it is a crime to commit bribery, be bribed and bribe a foreign public official. In addition it is a crime if a commercial organisation fails to prevent bribery on its behalf. The penalty for committing a crime under the Act is a maximum of ten years in prison and an unlimited fine. According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) there are three types of bribery, they are:

Active Bribery – whereby you offer, promise, give or reward someone for doing their day-to-day job improperly.

Passive Bribery – whereby you agree to receive a bribe and act improperly.

Bribing a foreign official – whereby you promise, offer or give a financial or other advantage, either directly or through a third-party, where such an advantage is not legitimately due.

A commercial organisation can be found guilty of this offence if the bribery is carried out by an employee or a third person, this could include a contractor, a supplier, an agent or a subsidiary.

So how does this affect Business?

All businesses aim to expand their finances by growing their customer base, mainly by being good at what they do and developing an excellent reputation but also by getting to know their customers both professionally and personally. How do most companies do this? Well a popular option is to provide customers with additional services or freebies to gain their loyalty and business, think about beauty counters and the extra bits and bobs you can get when you go there to buy a mascara!  In the commercial world this is generally known as corporate hospitality with most companies giving and receiving such things as gifts, tickets for sporting and social events etc. The Bribery Act is not there to interfere in this practice as such, SOCA are aware that companies and their clients need to get to know each other and generally like each other to conduct business in the first place. Instead the Act looks at corporate hospitality and asks is the event or gift being offered standard and reasonable or is it excessive and lavish?

For example: A client has been given tickets for a Caribbean cruise, the invite has also been extended to his wife. Is this excessive or is it reasonable? If the client and has wife are going on their own as a holiday it could be seen as a lavish gift alternatively if the members of the business are also going and their industry will be discussed it could be seen as standard hospitality.

Common sense should be applied here. If the hospitality got out into the public – how would it look?

What should your company be doing?

All members of staff should receive guidance and training on the consequences of breaching the Bribery Act, they should also have commitment from their senior members of staff that bribery will not be tolerated. This could include:

  • Risk Assessment documents, available for all staff
  • Proportional procedures in place
  • Due Diligence
  • Communication from top-level staff
  • Frequent monitoring and reviewing

What can Assistants do?

Assistants are usually at the centre of corporate hospitality, either organising it for their bosses or accepting it. Here are a few suggestions to make sure Assistant are doing all they can to aid their company in complying with the Act.

  • Assistants should act as an angel on the shoulder of their boss asking the questions “does this sound right” and “is it excessive”?
  • Assistants should keep details on all of the hospitality they have organised and also accepted on behalf of their boss, including how much it cost and what was offered and received. Furthermore, all expenses relating to the corporate hospitality should be logged.
  • Due diligence procedures should be in place for all new third-party suppliers. This could be a form with the company information and details on the type of business conducted.

More information can be found at the SOCA website http://www.soca.gov.uk/

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