Preventing bribery by British companies overseas: UK has made progress but could do better, according to Bond members

9 November 2016
Author: Susan Hawley

The OECD review finds room for improvement in the UK’s implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Bribes paid to win overseas contracts used to be seen as the normal way of doing business abroad. However, the past decade has seen widespread recognition that bribes do significant damage especially in developing countries. Bribes paid to foreign officials to win contracts undermine governance, increase project costs, distort public decision making and help companies avoid environmental and other regulations. According to some estimates, corrupt officials receive between $20-40 billion in bribes annually.

In 1999, in recognition of the harm caused by corporate bribery, the OECD introduced an Anti-Bribery Convention. The OECD’s Working Group on Bribery conducts regular reviews of signatory countries to see how they are implementing the Convention. The impact of the Convention has been steady but slow: in 2015, Transparency International found that half of all signatories had failed to prosecute any foreign bribery cases since signing the Convention.

Room for improvement

Recently, experts – in this case law enforcement specialists from Norway and South Africa – from the OECD Working Group on Bribery reviewed the UK to examine progress. Although the UK has improved significantly in OECD’s eyes since introducing the Bribery Act, the Bond Anti-Corruption Group thinks there is plenty of room for improvement in how the UK enforces the Convention.

Issues being monitored include detection, enforcement of anti-corruption laws, corporate liability regimes and engagement with the private sector. The evaluation process involves the government filling out a detailed questionnaire on these issues followed by a country visit where the examiners meet with different parts of government, members of the legal community and non-governmental actors from both the private sector and civil society.

Before the review team arrived, the Bond Anti-Corruption Group wrote to the Government asking it to follow ‘open government’ principles in the review, for example by:

  • making meeting agendas public;
  • providing a copy of its written response to the OECD questionnaire to non-governmental actors
  • and inviting input from governmental and non-governmental actors from victim countries (those affected by bribery by UK companies).

(See the full letter here)

Unfortunately, the Government responded that most of these things were not in its power and would be the decisions of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and the review team. The Bond Anti-Corruption group disagrees, as experience from other countries as well as the OECD guidelines themselves appear to allow governments to take a more open approach. The Group urges the Government to change its approach.

The Bond Anti-Corruption Group made a written submission to the OECD as well as meeting with the Review team. The submission covered the enforcement situation in the UK, the UK legal framework, whistleblower protection and public procurement. While the UK is no longer the black sheep of the OECD, as it was in the days before it introduced the Bribery Act, there is plenty of room for improvement in how it enforces the Convention.

For more detail on the OECD review read Corruption Watch’s blog.

About the author

Susan Hawley
Spotlight on Corruption

Susan Hawley is the executive director of Spotlight on Corruption.