City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard warned that half of businesses across the world face the threat of corruption, as he launched a new series of training programmes for firms on how to root-out and prevent bribery.
The training - carried out by both the City of London Police and the British Standards Institution (BSI) - is designed to help firms implement a framework to mitigate bribery risk. It is also aimed at preventing companies from falling foul of the Bribery Act 2010, by not having appropriate procedures in place, so staff know how to handle incidents of corruption and when to report wrongdoing.
"If you looked at it globally, there's some research to suggest that 50% of all businesses have experience of or are subject to bribery or corruption. It's huge," said Leppard, whose police force is investigating 25 individual cases of bribery, to IBTimes UK.
"Bribery and corruption doesn't help anyone in terms of managing business. It might help an individual person or an individual contract, but actually it defeats free and open business."
Many businesses do not yet know of the impact of the Bribery Act, which Leppard said "was never intended to try and prosecute more people, it was about creating more clarity about what businesses need to do."
Howard Kerr, chief executive of the business standards company BSI, told IBTimes UK that the Bribery Act 2010 is "more demanding than previous legislation".
"It shouldn't be seen as a crippling burden. It's not intended to stop people doing business, it's meant to enable businesses to do business, in the long-term, ethically," Kerr said.
He said that the UK has "taken the lead" in anti-bribery laws.
"I like to think other countries will follow and at some point we will get an increasing international consensus around how to deal with corruption. Somebody has to take the lead on it otherwise it will just continue indefinitely," he said.
Gifts Must be Proportionate
There is a lack of awareness among businesses of the bribery legislation and how to comply with it, said Kerr. This is why the BSI and City of London Police, which has a national role in tackling fraud and corruption, set up the training.
"This is not just an issue internationally. A lot of people think that it's just an issue if you're trading in certain parts of the world. It's an issue in the UK in a different context," he said.
"It can impact every single business. To put numbers on it is really difficult. That's probably the issue ... that the threat of corruption and the potential damage of corruption is so big."
Many firms offer gifts to potential clients and business partners, which without careful consideration, can be seen as bribes in certain contexts.
"Is being offered a ticket to Wimbledon a bribe, or is that just a thank you to somebody for giving them business?" said Kerr.
"I think it's got to be proportionate. Socialising around business is an important part of that.
"In certain parts of the world, in parts of Asia for example gift giving is a cultural norm. I lived in Japan for four years and giving gifts to business partners is absolutely normal on a day-to-day basis and is not considered to be corruption at a certain level."
Staff Approached With Bribes
Collinson Hall, an estate agency and property management company, put in anti-bribery systems shortly after the legislation came into force. They were piloting a framework set by the BSI - the BS 10500 Anti-bribery Management System - to meet with the standards set out in the Bribery Act.
"We do have regular approaches to our members of staff offering bribes," Steven Walker, Collinson Hall's managing director, told IBTimes UK.
"It can be as simple as an offer of cash to a member of staff to get an offer that's been forward accepted. It can be somebody pressurising to be awarded a contract on our property management side where we're procuring contracts for clients on maintenance and so on."
Walker said the firm had been having problems with a "poisonous" atmosphere among staff after his firm hired contractors who were married to two of Collinson's employees. It was "raising eyebrows", though Walker investigated and found no evidence of foul play.
"We were just wrestling with how we deal with this, when I got approached to run this pilot," he said.
"I thought this was the sort of framework we could use to make sure that all our processes are transparent [and] the decision-making processes in tenders and accepting offers was all done in a very transparent fashion. That made all the problems go away. They just evaporated overnight.
"We put in systems which were matched with what we saw as perceived threats to the business.
"This was largely double sign-off on contract awarding, reporting if we'd had any kind of approach in terms of a bribe, or something like that. Very simple, light touch systems that were not dissimilar to the sorts of things we had to deal with other issues as well. It was easily adopted."
Walker said complying with the Bribery Act was easy as the legislation is light touch and "we are not sat filling out reams and reams of paper".