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News & Press: Blog

Post-Brexit trade agreements provide a once in a generation opportunity to level the playing field

14 January 2020  
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In the Autumn edition of World Trade Matters, Sophie Ogilvy, Director of Transparency International UK's Business Integrity Programme, wrote that UK businesses must play their vital role in promoting integrity.

Corruption holds businesses back – it distorts the free market and creates an uneven playing field. Despite increased regulation and corporate standards, corruption remains a significant challenge and, for those living and working in many countries around the world, an escalating problem. Those challenges will only increase as emerging market economies assume a greater share of world trade in the coming years.

Many companies have done their best to minimise the risks of supply-side corruption with reactive policies and procedures. But without changing the operating environment, the demand side, challenges remain. These are a reality for business, and so business cannot afford to leave Government to formulate its initiatives without them.

The 2010 UK Bribery Act is one of the most robust pieces of anti-corruption legislation in the world. With this world-leading legislation, the UK is in a unique position to raise global standards, promote integrity, challenge corruption and create an economic environment in which law-abiding businesses can compete on a level playing field.

The vital role of companies

At Transparency International we recognise that the leadership of business is vitally important in the fight against corruption.  Any company engaging in international trade needs a best practice anti-corruption programme which is proportionate to the risks it is facing, and the company should monitor and review its effectiveness on a regular basis. This, however, is just a starting point. For best practice to spread, companies need to be actively engaged.

What steps should your company take?

According to the UK 2010 Bribery Act, your company must ensure that they have adequate procedures in place to mitigate against your corruption risks and strengthen your anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) programme appropriately. To help your company determine whether your procedures are sufficient and in line with the 2010 Bribery Act, whether you are listed, private or an SME, Transparency International has created free resources and guidance in the form of e-learning tools for SMEs (www.doingbusinesswithoutbribery.com), and our Global Anti-Bribery Guidance portal (www.antibriberyguidance.org). We also offer face-to-face training from our experienced corporate trainers.

Ensure your company stays one step ahead

It is also critical that you continue to scan the horizon when managing your compliance and ethics programmes. Even if you have robust policies and procedures in place to mitigate against corruption, a constantly changing global business environment leaves no place for complacency. It is vital that you stay one step ahead and commit to continuously monitoring and reviewing your ABC programmes.

Transparency International has a long established Business Integrity Forum which enables companies to discuss and engage with the latest anti-corruption issues and network with other aspirational organisations. We also enable businesses to anonymously benchmark their programmes against best practice, as well as against their peers’ ABC programmes through our annual Corporate Anti-Corruption Benchmark.

Get involved in collective action to make policy makers aware of the negative impact that corruption has on your business

Companies have a critical role to play, to ensure that policy makers both in the UK and in possible trading partner jurisdictions around the world, understand the detrimental effects that an unfair playing field and weak anti-corruption legislation and enforcement has on your ability as a company to trade effectively.

Transparency International UK’s Business Integrity Programme is proud to engage with aspirational companies and bring their support for strong anti-corruption laws into the debate with policy makers.

Improve your public disclosure to build trust

Transparency International has found that many companies are already boosting the number of voluntary disclosures they make beyond legal compliance, in order to increase trust, improve their reputation and to help investors and other stakeholders to understand their business. This has been re-enforced by the Non-Financial Reporting regulations that came into force in 2018. Disclosure also increases accountability, which in turn can lead to further improvements and competitive advantages. Transparency International will be publishing a set of principles on Corporate Transparency on areas of anti-bribery and corruption in the coming months. 

Why all of this is critical right now

For the UK, new post-Brexit trade agreements provide a once in a generation opportunity to raise anti-corruption standards in the global market and level the playing field for UK businesses. When agreeing new trade agreements, the Government has already committed (under its Anti-Corruption Strategy) to encourage other countries to adopt and implement the OECD Convention or equivalent measures, however there is more that the UK Government could do to ensure that UK business can thrive, and that trading partners improve their anti-corruption efforts.

What should the British Government do next?

Trade deals that include anti-corruption provisions and reinforce good practice will help to level the playing field for law-abiding businesses, enabling them to compete in these markets. At a minimum, these provisions should include requirements that:

  1. Trading partners ratify international anti-corruption conventions: Core requirements would be to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCaC) and OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
  2. Trading partners legislate to address corruption: Trade partners should be required to adopt or maintain legislation that criminalises corruption with appropriate penalties, and ensures whistleblower protection and freedom of the press.
  3. State parties actively comply with anti-corruption regulations: Enforcement of international commitments made in trade agreements should be encouraged through a monitoring mechanism, such as the OECD Working Group on Bribery.
  4. Partners demonstrate commitment to an independent, competent and sufficiently resourced judiciary, with the law impartially enforced.
  5. State parties partner in joint public information campaigns with other governments and local groups for international commerce, to promote doing business without bribery as an accepted norm.

It is a founding principle of Transparency International that a key way to tackle corruption is governments, civil society and business coming together, and it remains the best way to develop trade with integrity.

sophie ogilvy

transparency uk

Contact businessintegrity@transparency.org.uk

Further information on our work can be found at https://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/business-integrity/