No one in the procurement and supply management profession could have failed to notice the UK Bribery Act coming into force last month
. In the UK, we often pride ourselves on being world leaders in good governance and upholding the law as we pore over news stories of astonishing scandals of bribery and corruption in other countries. We regard ourselves as lucky that we do not have to live by the same rules for business as others do.
So it came as a shock to read Transparency International’s (TI’s) recent Corruption Perception Index for 2010 for the public sector, and seeing the UK in 20th place. TI is an independent organisation with a global remit and a mission to rid the world of corruption. The Index measures 178 countries, so initially the placing doesn’t seem half bad – especially as the UK is slightly above the US, France and Spain.
But the reality is we’re not in the top spot and that surely is unacceptable. The UK is placed just below the Gulf State of Qatar and well below the Nordic countries, Ireland, Luxembourg and Germany.
Although we’re unlikely to be faced with a police officer asking for a bribe to replace a speeding fine, or a doctor prescribing an expensive course of treatment after requesting a gift, what was once seen as ‘oiling the wheels of industry’ with a few low-value treats, is now being classified as corruption. That’s a hard message to convey given the global nature of supply chains and the different cultures within them. But corruption it is. Whether it’s a box of chocolates or a week-long visit to a spa, it doesn’t matter, and perception is everything in global business.
So if perception is key here, there may be a real danger of these practices becoming more covert and of a more underground nature. It’s often a grey area, anyway, on what constitutes acceptable practice, as politicians and high-ranking police officers have demonstrated recently. So I say bring it into the light and let’s keep it there.
For me, there is no greater issue to tackle. Our profession is at the coalface of business and organisational health, whether public or private, and we can lead the way in dispelling these practices. As an institute, it is fundamental that we have a huge role to play in this as our members sign up to our Code of Ethics and we expect them to live by that, as we do as a chartered body.
That includes shouting from the rooftops if we see associates acting in an unethical fashion on our behalf. So having robust and detailed policies and practices in place will ensure compliance across the board and prevent problems from happening in the first place. The six principles of The Bribery Act are dependent on such practice and it starts from the top, all the way to other areas of the business, a risk assessment, due diligence, communication, monitoring and review.
Our work around the world is also visible and I am regularly humbled by the high esteem in which the institute is held in other regions of the world, as an aspiration and a guide. So it makes the TI report all the more difficult to read as I feel we’re letting others down as a nation. With our 20th placing comes a heavy weight of responsibility to change the perception and reality of how we operate around the world, and we all have a part to play. Especially, as the movement is downward. The UK was 17th in TI’s 2009 report.
☛ See our News Focus: When is a gift not a gift?