How Do You Define 'Bribery'?

By Lara Jezeph

The word “bribery,” most would agree, has quite the negative connotation. From a young age, most of us learn that a bribe is a form of payoff, possibly an underhanded, dark-alley transaction carried out for nefarious purposes. We might picture a wad of cash poking out of a nondescript envelope, dropped in a mailbox or handed off to a courier. Bribery is illegal, we know, and most upstanding individuals would never consider themselves likely to be in a situation where they were giving – or accepting – a bribe.

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So what about that time you took some clients to dinner and drinks? Or better yet, treated a prospective client, one whose business you desperately wanted to secure, to an all-expenses paid night on the town?

Is that bribery? What about taking them to a polo or football match, or even a small vacation? If done innocently, isn't that just good business practice? Or could that actually be called bribery?

The most honest answer is: It depends. Whether it is bribery or harmless “entertaining” depends on where (what country or region) you are, who you spent the money on, how the act is perceived by both parties, and all sorts of other variables. Some bribery is stark and undeniable. But other forms of it tend to exist in an international “gray area,” drifting somewhere between influence and corruption.

With new legislation and authorities on the hunt for corruption, it is critical for organizations worldwide to take all necessary steps and remain in compliance. Due diligence and compliance experts are needed to ensure that all regulations are met, and that practices once seen as “normal business operations” don't suddenly put a business at risk. The stakes are too high to overlook the details set forth in the FCPA, UK Bribery Act and all regional or locally-based laws that deal with the issue.

The truth is that bribery blights lives and businesses. Its immediate victims include firms that lose out unfairly. The wider victims are government and society, undermined by a weakened rule of law and damaged social and economic development. At stake is the principle of free and fair competition, which stands diminished by each bribe offered or accepted.   

How do you define bribery? Please tell us - just leave a comment below.