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The UK Bribery Act: Five lessons in five years

The UK Bribery Act is the toughest anti-bribery legislation in the world. In its pledge to take a leading role in the global fight against corruption, the UK Act goes even further than the US's far-reaching Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Since coming into force, the new UK Bribery Act has driven better corporate behaviours, as companies are stepping up efforts to strengthen their defences and ensure adequate anti-graft procedures are in place. Five years on, five distinct themes are beginning to emerge:

1. Corporate culture is key to driving out corruption

Adequate anti-bribery procedures are an essential part of any corporate ethics policy. But without a strong corporate culture in which there is a genuine desire to stamp out poor behaviour, no written policy document will ever be sufficient.

2. Individuals implicated in wrongdoing should have a voice in the investigation

When conducting an internal investigation into alleged corporate wrongdoing, individuals at the centre of such investigations must be given a fair chance to respond to the allegations before the investigation is complete. Failure to do so runs roughshod over the rights of those individuals.

3. Incentivising timely self-reporting is an important part of the solution

Bribery, by its very nature, is a secret matter. A system that makes self-reporting an attractive option will bring more transparency to the process and will allow co-operating companies to move forward.

4. Allegations of corrupt behaviours are commonly international in scope

With many UK companies operating on a global scale, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has a global passport to prosecute bribery wherever the offence takes place. But investigations can be hampered by international bureaucracy and hurdles. In self-reporting, the SFO has a useful tool in overcoming some of these hurdles. It needs to provide real incentives for companies to do so.

5. The effectiveness of any law is judged on how it is enforced by the authorities

The Bribery Act can be a useful template for tackling other forms of financial crime. But at a time when the United States is shifting its focus towards individuals for greater responsibility in corporate wrongdoings, the SFO seems to be moving in the opposite direction by taking criminal enforcement action against companies. Is this in the best public interest? Only time will tell.


Read other chapters in this report:
The Bribery Act: The changing face of corporate liability


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