July 4—Revolutionary Anti-Bribery Legislation Enacted In The U.K. And Enforceable In the U.S.A.

In the late 18th century, Republican colonists were concerned that British influence and corruption were spreading across the Atlantic. Then, the so-called Intolerable Acts triggered enough outrage an opposition among the thirteen colonies that they consequently formed the First Continental Congress in 1774 to address such political abuses. When a British Commissioner attempted to bribe Continental Congressman Joseph Reed into reconciliation, thoughts turned even more resolutely toward revolution.

 Ironically, on the day America’s forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, the U.K. is also looking inward to its own laws concerning bribery and corruption. Effective July 1, the British government put into effect the Bribery Act, which overhauls corruption legislation dating back as far as 1889.

 The Bribery Act has been called “the most far-reaching bribery legislation in the world.” [1] It declares legal war against any company or State who operates within its borders and is caught conferring bribes.

 In its guide to the Bribery Act, the U.K. Ministry of Justice states:

“Very generally, [bribery] is defined as giving someone a financial or other advantage to encourage that person to perform their functions or activities improperly or to reward that person for having already done so.”

The Act makes it a criminal offense for both corporations and individuals who operate in the U.K. to engage in bribery. It is a corporate offense if companies fail to prevent bribery. [2]

If organizations can show they took “adequate procedures” to prevent bribery, they are not liable—which is why lawyers are scrambling to advise their corporate clients to circulate anti-bribery manuals and provide pertinent anti-corruption training to associates.

At the same time, a survey released in June 2011 by KPMG reports that one third of U.K. companies still have yet to conduct anti-bribery and corruption risk assessments. The survey also found that 71 percent of companies believe bribery and corruption are actually necessary to conduct business in some areas and industries in the world. [3]

While the term “adequate procedures” remains vague, unquestioningly, corporations (and your clients) with operations in the U.K. should take steps to implement anti-bribery precautions, whether that be employee training or official procedures.

At this point, litigators and political officials do not know if the U.K. plans on enforcing this harsh legislation literally or leniently.

Addressing the intentions of the law, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports “[Richard Alderman, the head of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office] said the sorts of cases he wanted to tackle were complex ones where it appeared companies had ‘no intention of complying with legal and ethical’ regulations and those that had clear negative financial implications for competitors of bribing companies.”

However, it is possible that companies—particularly those who operate in oil and gas or in some African nations—will need to curb certain business practices or suffer serious consequences for participating in corporate hospitality traditions viewed unfavorably by this new British law.

So in honor of revolutionary people and ideas, commemorate this July 4th by gently reminding your clients of foreign anti-bribery rules and by supporting another 235 years of independence from legal coercion and corruption.

-WB


[1] http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2011/07/01/u-k-s-harsh-new-bribery-law-goes-live/

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13977221

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13983256

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