The Bribery Act and implications for temperature-controlled road transport

Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK: International road transport operators are especially vulnerable to prosecution under the new Bribery Act says Aziz Rahman, founder of serious fraud and business crime solicitors, Rahman Ravelli Solicitors.

“We all know that globalisation and the progress of technology mean that transport companies have the potential to carry out business anywhere in the world,’ says Rahman.

“Yet the new Bribery Act, which came into effect in July, makes it an offence for companies to be involved in bribery anywhere in the world or to have failed to prevent such activity by an employee or any other third party connected with that company. And when it comes to an industry sector such as temperature-controlled transport, this could have severe implications.

“Anyone working in such an international industry must now be exceedingly careful and aware of the conduct of not just its staff members but also any agents, contractors or even sub-contractors that it works with. A company can find itself facing criminal charges if anyone it has a “close connection” with is found to be involved in bribery – even if the company was unaware of what was happening. When businesses are involved in the sourcing and transporting of foodstuffs between countries, there are many pitfalls that temperature-controlled companies have to be aware of.

“With the punishments being unlimited fines and up to 10 years in prison, the Bribery Act is far more than a slap on the wrist for bad behaviour.

“It states that companies should have “adequate procedures” in place to prevent bribery. And it seems that small to medium size enterprises (SME’s) – so common in motor transport – may face the biggest struggle. They now have to use their limited resources to ensure they have adequate procedures in place.

Aziz Rahman, founder of serious fraud and business crime solicitors, Rahman Ravelli Solicitors

“Online training, seminars and specialist business solicitors are all available. If you are in a sector such as temperature-controlled transport, there has to be board level involvement to ensure that everyone in the company knows their responsibilities and the steps they must take to identify and flag up all possible bribery risks. Whether it is the sourcing of foodstuffs in a certain country, risks of cross-border corruption when transporting them or even the expectation that a sweetener should be paid to secure a transportation contract – all such activities can put a company at risk of prosecution under the Act. All aspects of a company’s behaviour must be regularly monitored so it can respond to any new risks of bribery that may arise wherever it may trade.

“Only in this way can a company make sure its procedures are adequate. If investigations uncover that a senior figure within a company has consented to bribery, or merely turned a blind eye to it, they can be prosecuted personally.  If for no other reason than this, therefore, a company’s senior staff must examine its activities outside of its own four walls. Is it aware what its associates working “in the field” or abroad are doing to secure deals for foodstuffs? Or transport contracts? Or lucrative consultancy work? Are prospective customers or trading partners being vetted to see if they are involved in bribery? Are bonus targets too high, meaning the staff may be tempted to use a little bribery to “grease the wheels” to try and achieve the unrealistic success levels being demanded of them?

“In an industry such as temperature-controlled transport, any deal can be both cost sensitive and time sensitive. And anyone who is aware of this may want to use it to extort a little extra for themselves “on the side”, hence the need to be aware of the potential for bribery. The Act states that a company is guilty of an offence if someone acting for it offers or gives a financial or other advantage to persuade someone to perform an activity improperly or to reward them if the improper activity has already been carried out. The Act also contains a specific offence of bribing a foreign official to obtain or retain an advantage in business – a crucial point of law for any company doing cross-border business. Many in business use to believe it wasn’t important to track all the activities of a third party acting on your behalf in a far-flung land- now it is vital to know if you are to avoid prosecution.

“Sales and marketing, procurement, exports, customs and the issuing of permits and licences for businesses are all areas where bribery has thrived in various nations and business sectors. And the scope for bribery is likely to increase with the size of the deals being brokered.  But the Act now aims to reduce that scope. And those in the temp-controlled transport  industry must make sure they do not fall foul of it.”