Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
When in doubt about the new Bribery Act, go with common sense, says Paul East, chief commercial officer for Wings Travel Management.
Not unexpectedly, the recently passed UK Bribery Act is generating its fair share of controversy. Any time a government body attempts to define fairness in business and provide an enforceable measure of checks and balances without handicapping competition, there’s controversy. That’s even more true considering this legislation is designed to create a zero tolerance culture toward bribery in the UK.
The legislation has come about primarily in response to several recent high-profile corruption cases, including accusations of alleged fraudulent statements and failure to keep accurate records related to BAE Systems (then British Aerospace), and CBRN’s alleged bribery of a government official in Uganda. BAE agreed to pay fines of $400 million to the US and £30 million to the UK; both the managing director of CBRN and the foreign official were charged in the other matter.
Rare as cases like these are, they clearly undermine the goals of the great majority of companies that operate ethically and are diligent in their efforts to stay within the laws of the countries where they do business.
With the act, the Ministry of Justice has taken on the unenviable task of trying to define guidelines and levels for corporate gift giving, among other areas, entering into a gray area that leaves a lot of details open to interpretation. Compounding the confusion, strong arguments from the anti-Bribery Act lobby have led to a softening of the government’s stance, which has initially created even more uncertainty.
The law goes a long way toward bringing the UK into step with laws in many other countries around the world, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) that was involved in the BAE case.
While the Ministry of Justice continues efforts to provide more clarity, there are logical conclusions that can be drawn even at this early stage.
At its very basic level, the new act gives companies with overseas operations in the UK pause to evaluate their current policies regarding gifts, loyalty programmes and incentives. It also lets them take a closer look at the policies of the companies with which they do business. For most, this is likely a simple review of safeguards already in place and a quick reminder to staff about proper behaviour.
The confusion related to an act of this nature can create an atmosphere of fear and caution. That can, in turn, create a bunker mentality in which businesses restrict travel and decline business opportunities while awaiting more clarity on specific activities that may or may not violate the new standards.
This behaviour is understandable in light of the extensive penalties for violating the new law, which includes loss of reputation, loss of current and possible future jobs, fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years, which applies even to company executives. Unfortunately, this wait-and-see behaviour can also endanger the health of the very companies the law seeks to protect.
The best course
While there are no easy answers in these early days of the new legislation, most companies that trust their business travel management to outside companies can lean heavily on the ethics, standards and reputation of those companies. The new law doesn’t excuse any company involved at any level from prosecution.
Travel management companies in particular have it in their best interest to use this opportunity to evaluate their standards and practices, and to make clients aware of the new law and any potential for problems. They are also well advised to adopt the UK’s familiar “Keep calm and carry on” sentiment when communicating to clients who already operate well within the standards.
Even more so, travel management companies need to be proactive, taking on the responsibility of understanding and interpreting changes in international laws on behalf of their clients. Our company is fortunate to have its own in-house legal team to facilitate this effort. As an industry, we must all make a concerted effort to seek answers and translate them into meaningful behaviour for clients as events unfold.