On Monday the Ministry of Justice announced that it would no longer meet its deadline of implementing the Bribery Act by April. Under pressure from significant business interests Ken Clarke has bowed to their concerns. In fact, the only commitment still guaranteed is the promise of a three month window (for business to comply) from the publication of guidance notes till the Act’s implementation.
But there is no timeframe on when the guidance notes are to be published. At the moment, the legislation is being re-examined under the Government’s growth review.
This is unacceptable.
The government has been swayed by the illegitimate concerns of big business. John Cridland, the head of the Confederation of Business Industry - a peak business lobby group, argued that the Act is not ‘fit for purpose’ because it lacked clarity, which could harm British firms.
But it is Mr Cridland’s arguments, and the stance of the CBI and the businesses that he lobbies on behalf of who are wrong. Simply put, obstructing the implementation of the Act damages British firms. Professor Mark Reith from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pointed out that such a move will ‘hurt the competitiveness of British industry at a moment when it is most vulnerable.’
With the latest growth figures showing that the economy has contracted business groups fear that the Bribery Act will reduce their international competitiveness. They argue that the Act places unreasonable burdens on their ability to conduct their operations compared to companies from foreign countries. That is not the case. As Professor Reith counters, ‘the new law is by no means stricter than the laws of other OECD member states’.
In fact, the Bribery Act was driven by agreements with the OECD, the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN that countries should develop common standards.
Consider this, before the Bribery Act, Britain's anti-corruption laws have not been updated since 1916.
It’s fair to say then, the Bribery Act is not only fair, but also long overdue.
So if the Bribery Act won’t harm British businesses, what of Mr Cridland’s arguments that it is not ‘fit for purpose’? Well that depends on what your purposes are. It’s pretty clear, if the title is anything to go by, that the Act’s purpose is to stamp out bribery and heavily punish those companies that use it as a means of advancing their business interests.
Seems pretty reasonable.
We can’t let the excuse of poor economic growth deny the implementation of the Act. Instead, passing the Act is good for business, the UK and those who live in extreme poverty.
The UK has the opportunity to be a global leader in the fight against corruption and we need to maintain the pressure on No 10. They need to know that we are serious about combating corruption. The Bribery Act is vital in this goal. We need to show them that our integrity is not a commodity to be traded in the pursuit of profit.
As Dr Gavin Hayman, the director of campaigns at Global Witness wrote in the Times, ‘stopping bribery is not just a matter of principle - corruption destroys lives.’
At the Global Poverty Project, we will continue to work with Transparency International and others to ensure that the guidance notes are completed, released, and the Act is implemented in full. Sign up below to be kept up to date about this and our broader campaign to fight corruption