As the Bribery Act takes effect, almost half of UK plc is unaware

 
Elizabeth Fournier
NEARLY half of UK businesses are still not aware of the UK’s new anti-corruption legislation, despite the Bribery Act finally coming into force this morning.

A survey of 400 businesses across the country found that 46 per cent have no knowledge of the Act at all, according to business insurer QBE.

Most worryingly, four in ten of those with no knowledge of the Act’s new requirements and powers were those classed as large businesses, with 250 or more employees.

Big businesses with multiple offices and international operations are likely to be most at risk from the new rules, which focus on areas such as corporate hospitality, facilitation payments and director liability.

Though much of the Act, pioneered by justice secretary Ken Clarke (pictured, left) just brings the UK’s outdated anti-corruption laws in line with best practices across global markets, there are several areas where it is “gold-plated” – with UK requirements going above and beyond those that international companies are used to dealing with.

In particular, companies are worried about the lack of an exception for facilitation payments – sometimes made to third-party suppliers or officials to speed up services.

“Most international companies that implemented OECD standards from 1998 probably won’t have too much to do,” said Philip Urofsky, a former US Department of Justice prosecutor and partner at City law firm Shearman & Sterling. “But the UK will be the only common law country to not have an exception.”

Despite concerns around corporate hospitality regularly making headlines during the drafting of the Act, according to the QBE research just 16 per cent of businesses surveyed said they had reviewed their policies on hospitality.

MAKING AN EXAMPLE

With it’s new teeth firmly in place as of this morning, lawyers say the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), led by Richard Alderman (pictured, right) will be looking to prove that the Act has bite, though it could take a while for prosecutions to filter through the system.

“The SFO and the FSA will both be eager to flex their new muscles,” says Eoin O’Shea, a partner at law firm Laurence Graham. “They will want to bring at least one or two successful prosecutions or enforcement actions in the next 12-18 months, possibly sooner, and are likely to have some intelligence already about promising cases.”