Aziz Rahman, of award-winning business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, explains why it is best to play it safe when exporting.
The idea that someone hundreds or thousands of miles away rates what you are doing so highly that they want to bring your product to their country is a sure sign that you have got it right.
It may be that the company or individual you are exporting to stumbled upon you by accident or was the target of a precise marketing campaign. You may have secured the deal because you are offering something unique or because you are cheaper or more flexible than your competitors.
What you must not do is overstep the line when it comes to securing that all-important export deal. That may sound like stating the obvious. And I don’t want to sound alarmist but, at a time when the authorities here and abroad are taking an especially close look at anything that resembles bribery, a little caution can go a long way.
In the last year or two, some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have had to pay multi-million dollar settlements after being found to have used bribery as a regular way of securing deals around the globe. This time last year, Rolls-Royce avoided prosecution for bribery but had to pay almost £500M to the Serious Fraud Office for its wrongdoing. And going into detail about the bribery investigations involving many of the world’s biggest exporters of oil and natural resources would take up the bulk of this article.
All those companies are huge. And yet they all failed to ensure they were not involved in bribery. This either indicates that they did not have bribery prevention procedures in place or they did and they were either not fit for purpose or not properly enforced.
With the UK’s Bribery Act covering the worldwide activities of any company based in or doing business in the UK, its scope for prosecutions is large. It covers the activities of anyone acting anywhere, in any capacity, for a company – and ignorance of that person’s involvement in bribery is no defence for a company. Punishments under the Act can be as high as 10 years’ imprisonment for individuals and unlimited fines. This makes it particularly important for every company with a UK connection to make sure its house is in order – wherever it does business.
Exporting can be hugely rewarding. But carefully-devised anti-bribery procedures are essential, regardless of where you are exporting to and what you are exporting. Such procedures will go a long way towards preventing bribery being carried out and, at the very least, give the company a chance to identify any wrongdoing.
This is also vitally important because although a company has no defence under the Bribery Act if it was ignorant of the bribery carried out in its name, it does have a defence if it can show that it had adequate prevention procedures in place.
But such procedures have to be genuine, carefully thought-out initiatives designed and implemented to prevent bribery.
They should include:
At a time when bribery is high on the authorities’ agenda, such an approach has to be adopted by all companies that are currently exporting or planning to do so in the future. If companies are unsure how to go about this, they can seek the appropriate legal advice.
There is no doubt that exports can be the key to the success of a company. However, each company that wishes to export has to make sure that it has taken all possible precautions to ensure that their success is not tainted with the huge costs and damage that bribery can bring.
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