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Keeping on the Right Side of the Bribery Act

The Bribery Act 2010 came into force as a modernisation of existing laws on bribery. It is important for businesses to understand what actions are prohibited by the act.

The government’s general definition of bribery is “giving someone a financial or other advantage to encourage that person to perform their functions or activities improperly or to reward that person for already having done so”.


Under the Bribery Act, an entire organisation will take the flak if bribery is committed by a senior figure within it. Likewise if someone carrying out services on behalf on the organisation such as an employee or agent pays a bribe to get business, keep business or gain a business advantage for the organisation. You can protect yourself against and avoid prosecution for this, however, by ensuring that you have adequate procedures in place for preventing bribery.

Adequate procedures

The anti-bribery procedures your business will require will depend on the size of the organisation, and size of the potential threat of bribery taking place. For example, if you trade in a country where bribery is known to be commonplace, you should have more stringent procedures in place.

If you operate overseas the government recommends undertaking online research or consulting UK diplomatic posts or UK Trade and Investment for advice, to ascertain how common bribery is in a particular country.

Procedures for preventing bribery should be appropriate to the level of risk, so if you conclude there is little risk to your company, then there may not be any need to implement any anti-bribery measures.

For organisations where anti-bribery procedures are appropriate, there is no need for extensive written documentation or policies. Proportionate procedures may include imposing controls over company expenditure, accounting and commercial or agent contracts. It is important to communicate anti-bribery policies to staff and make sure they are committed to the cause.

It is worth noting that the Act does not require external verification of any anti-bribery procedures you put in place, so there is no obligation to involve consultants or lawyers.

Doing due diligence

Where persons are performing services on your behalf, you will have to think about whether it is worth doing due diligence on them. What form this takes will depend on the level of risk you feel you are exposed to.

Where the risk is low it should be sufficient to satisfy yourself that the person is genuine and trustworthy, by enquiring to business contacts, local chambers of commerce or business associations, for example.

If you feel the risk is higher than you may wish to ask the agent for a CV, financial settlements or accounts, or other references.


Providing genuine hospitality or other similar business expenditure does not come under the auspices of the Bribery Act. The authorities may however investigate if it appears that the hospitality was a cover for bribery.

According to the government’s advice, the following should not engage the Act if they are proportionate and reasonable given the sort of business you do:

  • Providing tickets to sporting events
  • Taking clients to dinner
  • Offering gifts to clients as a reflection of good relations
  • Paying for reasonable travel expenses

Facilitation payments

Paying officials to perform duties which they are otherwise obliged to perform, making what are known as facilitation payments, is considered bribery under the Act. Legally-required administrative fees and payments for fast-track services do not count as facilitation payments, however.

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