New anti-bribery laws come into force later this year. Break them and you could face fines – or prison, says Catriona Munro

From an elaborate plot to supply sub-grade tomatoes to one of the world's leading food manufacturers, to kickbacks from corn suppliers to a local fast food franchise, the food industry is not immune to the dangers of bribery and corruption.

In a move to combat this issue, the UK Bribery Act is set to come into force later this year. A long time coming, the Act combines a rag-tag collection of regulations, which introduce tough new rules to cover the private and public sectors.

The new rules will hold not just the individual who gives or receives the bribe responsible, but also senior officers who turn a blind eye. Bribery will be outlawed in the UK and even companies that commit offences abroad can be charged.  As a result, companies that conduct even minimal business in the UK will fall within the scope of the Act.

Under the legislation, directors face disqualification for 15 years and prison sentences of up to 10 years, in addition to unlimited fines. Companies, meanwhile, are liable for unlimited fines and possible exclusion from future public sector tenders. The immediate challenge is, therefore, to implement effective anti-corruption policies. Companies should be identifying and then taking steps to reduce their risk.

The Act is also expected to curtail the use of lavish corporate hospitality. While legitimate relationship building will of course continue, companies are expected to implement policies to limit excessive hospitality, which could suggest improper influence.

In practice, the timing of such hospitality may also be a deciding factor. For example, entertaining a potential customer ahead of a tender process would potentially be a cause for concern, whereas in other circumstances the same entertainment may be perfectly acceptable. 

Companies need to think carefully about improving their procedures for preventing corruption and bribery.  There is no 'one size fits all' and taking appropriate steps to introduce appropriate systems and processes will go a long way in demonstrating a cohesive approach to tackling such threats.

Catriona Munro is a partner in the EU, competition and regulatory team at Maclay Murray & Spens