Guidance published at the end of last month by the Ministry of Justice effectively emasculates the 2010 UK Bribery Act, Christian Aid and other development agencies have warned.
"The Bribery Act is an excellent piece of legislation and we fully support it. But the guidance greatly limits its applicability," said Eric Gutierrez, Senior Adviser on Governance at Christian Aid.
He highlighted paragraph 40 of the Guidance, which states that: A bribe paid on behalf of a joint venture entity by one of its employees or agents will therefore not trigger liability for members of the joint venture simply by virtue of them benefiting indirectly from the bribe through their investment in or ownership of the joint venture.
"This is tantamount to telling UK companies that they can join and invest in joint ventures – the typical arrangement in the mining industry – that practice bribery. It directly contradicts the spirit of the Act," declared Gutierrez.
He also draws attention to problems with paragraph 42, which states: A bribe paid on behalf of a subsidiary by one of its employees or agents will not automatically involve liability on the part of its parent company, or any other subsidiary of the parent company, if it cannot be shown the employee or agent intended to obtain or retain business or a business advantage for the parent company or other subsidiaries.
“A bribe is a bribe," said Christian Aid's Eric Gutierrez. "At the very least, this statement creates wiggle room that enables parent companies to avoid liability for the bribery done by its subsidiaries.”
Christian Aid has been joined by other leading charities in criticising the Guidance to the Bribery Act.