Guest blog by Alan Field: When is a gift just a gift?

Alan Field, author of ISO 37001 – An Introduction to Anti-Bribery Management Systems and the ISO 37001:2016 ABMS Documentation Toolkit, explores the implications of seasonal gift giving.


Sigmund Freud is credited with saying “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” With Christmas approaching, when is a gift just a gift in business?

In many ways, gifts and hospitality are not the most important topics in anti-bribery – matters like risk assessment and due diligence are. This is reflected by the emphasis that ISO 37001 – the international standard for anti-bribery management systems – has on these topics. If your customers and contractors are honest, then, in many instances, the risk of corrupt practices involving gifts and hospitality simply don’t arise. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

So, what happens if you are offered a case of whisky or an all-expenses-paid trip to a rugby game? Firstly, your organisation should have a policy on gifts and hospitality and, contrary to popular belief, there is no single approach to this. Some organisations absolutely forbid the acceptance of any gifts or hospitality. This is the lowest risk option but can create practical or logistical difficulties. Also, customers, clients and contractors need to be briefed on this policy in advance to avoid unnecessary explanations and any potential misunderstandings.

Another approach is to say that gifts and hospitality of a modest nature can be accepted; this is sometimes connected with a value limit, e.g. £25. Often it can only be accepted with a line manger’s approval and must be recorded on a gifts and hospitality register, which senior management can review on a periodic basis. Some organisations refuse to accept certain gifts for ethical or safety reasons, e.g. alcohol. In all cases, gifts or hospitality must be proportionate. In other words, a modest lunch might be different from an all-expenses-paid trip to a tropical island – the complexity is with the cases in-between. Also, a clear decision needs to be made before anything is accepted that it will not be seen – by any party – as an inducement.

All staff in an organisation – be they senior executives or junior managers – need to understand the gifts and hospitality policy.

Implementing ISO 37001 can help any organisation make decisions on these important matters. ITGP’s ISO 37001 – An Introduction to Anti-Bribery Management Systems is an effective starting point for implementing the Standard.

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