04 March 2004 | Simon Binns
UK businesses have been urged to press the government to bolster its anti-corruption legislation by prosecuting more British companies suspected of foreign bribery practises.
The Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into force in 2002, aimed to make it easier to prosecute British companies for overseas corruption, including controversial facilitation payments to foreign government officials to speed services such the processing of contracts.
But only four allegations have been made to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and only one is under investigation.
Foreign secretary Jack Straw has said the government is leaning towards promoting "education over prosecution".
Sources claim the government has accepted corruption is "endemic" in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Indonesia and has become sympathetic to firms that argue they need flexibility to operate in areas where small bribes are common.
Andrew Wilson, a director at the Ashridge Centre for Business and Society, said companies needed to be more open about their objections to bribery.
"Businesses need to tell the government to investigate these allegations and should pressure it to pursue more cases," he said.
"There is still a gap between what businesses do and what they say they do."
He added: "Organisations accept short-term economic hits, but need to discuss these issues more publicly. Legislation has to be the way forward, but it needs public support from business."
A spokesman for Transparency International, the anti-corruption group, said: "There is an opportunity for demonstrating enforcement of the laws.
"The government has to live up to the terms of its own legislation and focus the minds of some people. But anti-corruption legislation won't be taken seriously by the business community unless they can see a high-profile case under way."
The Foreign Office said educating British companies about corruption showed that it took the issue seriously.
The CIPS policy document Ethical Business Practices notes that purchasers who uncover corruption have a duty to alert their senior management.