I once asked a Tesco executive why there were no plans to enter Russia. His answer was short and simple: bribery.
It was impossible to do business without lining everyone’s palm with silver. And the comment reflects what most of us think about the topic: it happens in African dictatorships, Eastern Europe, perhaps as close as Italy and Greece. But never on these shores.
In the week that the Barclays boss was booted out over the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal, it’s clear that honour and decency has long since been swept aside in the City in pursuit of money.
But as our survey of senior industry executives shows neither can we be complacent about bribery and corruption in the grocery sector. It was widely assumed that the notorious case of the Sainsburys potato buyer, who was jailed last month after living a life of luxury on the back of bribes he had received from Greenvale, was an isolated case. And Sainsbury’s, like others, has worked hard since the case emerged, and the Bribery Act introduced, to tighten the rules, and train buyers in the do’s and don’ts.
But from our survey it’s clear bribery and corruption has been a significant characteristic of sales negotiation between suppliers and their supermarket and wholesaler clients, with almost half aware of a salesperson who had offered a bribe and 40% had known a buyer to ask for one.
Some of these tales are certainly old, and perhaps apocryphal. I’ve heard that, in the good old days, senior executives in one very large supermarket demanded the construction or acquisition of holiday villas, flights on Concorde, and in the case of one very, very senior exec, a 1% cut of all wine sales. And our survey details further sleazy tales involving lapdancers and prostitutes.
But, alarmingly, 26% of respondents believe bribery is actually more common, not less. Of course, it depends what your definition is. In the case of corporate entertainment, there are certainly shades of grey.
But this is not a matter about which we can be either complacent or smug. Because it’s happening right under our noses.