The document is yet another manifestation of France’s activity in adopting measures for preventing corruption domestically and countering transnational bribery, which has increased in recent years.
The Policy highlights that gifts and signs of hospitality, such as invitations to restaurants, exhibitions, sporting and cultural events and the like of an entity as a whole or its individual employees are common practice in the business environment. However, under certain circumstances, when the purpose of a gift/invitation is to influence a person so that he/she acts (refrains from acting) against his/her legal, contractual or professional obligations, gift-giving/receiving may indicate corruption offences, in particular, passive or active bribery or trading in influence.
In spite of the fact that the legislation does not impose the obligation to specifically regulate gift-giving/receiving and demonstration of hospitality, the adoption of such policy is appropriate in terms of control over corruption risks.
In developing the relevant policy it is advisable to:
1. Define the target group to which the policy will be applied.
In this context, it will be appropriate to apply the policy to all staff members, including temporary ones, and managers. At the same time, the requirements for different categories of employees may differ. For example, more rigorous rules may be provided for the individuals responsible for procurement. Besides that, the entity may consider imposing obligations on the third parties to abide by its gift policy.
2. Establish rules on gift-giving/receiving and invitations.
The rules regarding gifts and sings of hospitality may differ just as in the case of different types of gifts and invitations. For instance, entities may establish specific rules on invitations to sporting and cultural events. Subsidiaries that conduct their activities abroad may also be provided with specific rules based on the cultural and other peculiarities of the region.
Any rules that are being imposed should be illustrated by examples so that the persons that should observe them could understand how respective norms are related to their daily activities.
The rules regarding gifts and invitations include several key elements based on the factors that the court will take into consideration in the event of an alleged corruption offence:
А) The purpose of a gift/invitation.
The gifts or invitations motivated by professional reasons and related to the activity of the beneficiary or provided for by the policy of the entity, for instance, in terms of public relations, pose a low corruption risk, whilst gifts or invitations to a relative of the individual with whom business relationship is foreseen, as well as gifts offered before a decision on awarding/extending a contract is taken, in particular, at the stage of announcement of a tender, may indicate a high corruption risk.
B) The price of a gift/invitation.
Entities may set a threshold – a certain sum of money or a range of values; when it is exceeded, the respective gift or invitation should be declined. Entities may also define categories of price of gifts, such as “symbolic”, “reasonable”, “low-value”, etc. rather than the exact numerical value. Considering the obvious arbitrariness of such approach, the rules on gifts in this case should be properly illustrated by specific examples.
C) Frequency of gifts/invitations.
The same individual may offer/accept several gifts/invitations to/from the same third party over a certain period of time. Taking into consideration the risks related to such situation, entities may lay down the rules that restrict repeated gift-giving/invitations, for instance, by setting the maximum number of gifts/invitations that may be accepted by the same individual from the same third party over a certain period of time, or to provide that the individual must obtain the permission of his/her superior before accepting another gift/invitation.
D) The procedure for receiving gifts/invitations.
Entities may opt for one of the two approaches.
The first one presupposes that it is the employee who takes a decision on whether to accept or decline a gift/invitation. In such a case the employee may be obliged to inform his/her superior or the compliance officer about certain types of gifts that he/she receives, for instance, whose price is higher than a target value.
The second approach implies that a gift/invitation may be accepted by the employee only with the permission of a superior or another person vested with such powers.
In any case, the decision to accept or decline a gift/invitation should be based on the above-mentioned elements. In order to facilitate decision-making the respective corporate policy may include a set of questions the answers to which will help take a decision, for example:
- What is the estimated cost of the gift? Is it reasonable?
- Would I feel comfortable if my colleagues got to know that I had accepted this gift?
- Has the same individual or entity offered other gifts or entertainment over the last few months?
- Can the gift or the invitation influence the performance of my duties or damage the reputation of the entity?
E) Other elements.
The document also contains best practices regulating the offer/acceptance of gifts and invitations:
- giving certain types of gifts to charity or their sharing among employees,
- maintaining a register of gifts/sings of hospitality.
3. Issue rules on gift-giving/receiving and invitations.
The gift and hospitality policy should be related to the code of conduct of the entity and other documents, such as policy on expenditure reports, donations and sponsorship.
In implementing the adopted policy entities are encouraged to:
1. Raise awareness about the policy among all those whom it may concern.
It is necessary to provide employees of the subsidiaries that conduct their activities abroad with the translation of the policy in other languages. In addition, the policy may be published on the corporate website and it should be mentioned in meetings with third parties.
2. Conduct training regarding the gift and hospitality policy.
In the first place, such training should be organised for the employees subject to high corruption risks, for instance for those who have the right to sign for the company. The training should be preferably in person and be illustrated with practical examples and scenarios. It may be complemented by short videos and online courses. Employees of foreign branches are encouraged to examine possible patterns of behaviour that would allow them not to “offend” third parties in the event that the corporate gift and hospitality policy is contrary to the local business practices.
3. Monitor compliance with the policy.
The monitoring should be carried out at several levels:
А) supervision: immediate supervisor or other individual appointed for this purpose (for instance, compliance officer) should track the requests for permission to accept a gift/invitation and analyse expenditure reports;
B) bookkeeping controls: the accounting department should register gifts and signs of hospitality and ensure that it is easy to identify them in reports, and to decline payments/reimbursements that are not in line with the payment procedure determined by the corporate gift and hospitality policy;
C) internal audit and control: the internal audit and control office (if applicable) should, on the one hand, monitor the correct implementation of the gift and hospitality policy and, on the other hand, its relevance and effectiveness. Internal control may facilitate the maintenance of a register of gifts and invitations that can make it possible, in particular, to trace repeated acceptance of gifts/invitations from the same third party.