By Max Clarke

As the Bribery Act comes into force, businesses are being urged to put measures into place to ensure their compliance with the draconian new legislation.

Companies and individuals can face unlimited fines and jail terms if found to be in breach of the new rules, though precisely what constitutes bribery under the act is unclear to businesses.

“Companies need to understand the risks they may run if they do not make an active effort to demonstrate their willingness to abide by the Act,” said Ernst & Young’s fraud specialist, John Smart.

“Our recent European Fraud Survey found that one in seven employees at large UK companies are prepared to offer cash payments to secure business and little more than half are aware of an anti-bribery policy at their firm, showing there is clearly very significant ground left to be covered”.

1. Get your processes right. Businesses should appoint an ethics officer and undertake a risk assessment to give that officer a clear picture to work from. It is very important to record incidents where ethical standards may have been breached, keep records and log any concerns;

2. Know exactly what is going on in your company, especially if you operate in countries where corruption is common. It could be a shrewd move to employ a risk assessment adviser to examine your overseas operations;

3. Working out what you can and can’t offer to clients can be difficult - you are required to judge whether or not a gift or corporate entertainment counts as “appropriate”. What is lavish to one may be seen as stingy by another. For instance, it might be acceptable to take a top broker out for lunch, but not to fly him out to New York in First Class.

4. Train your employees - make sure they understand the Act by giving adequate support and guidance. Keep hold of any materials used, to show that you’ve taken training seriously. Again, this is particularly important given that in our recent survey, in which 74% of respondents said that they had not yet received any anti-bribery training.

5. Demonstrate the message of zero tolerance. As a first step, discuss the issues at a board meeting and ensure the minutes reflect that you have added anti-bribery measures to your code of conduct.

John Smart concluded: 
“Management teams are committed to anti-bribery, with 71% of UK respondents to our survey wanting to see increased supervision by regulators, which is great, but the training, guidance and understanding of bribery risks across companies just isn’t there yet. With time running out, it is now urgent that companies look at their internal processes and take the right steps, before it is too late.”