No corporate hospitality please, we’re British

The Bribery Act 2010 came into force this week and has been well covered in SM with the Act throwing corporate hospitality into the spotlight.

Despite the expectations of some, the Act remains vague in respect of where the line is drawn between taking hard cash (nasty), and entertaining corporate guests at high profile events at Henley, Wimbledon, Twickers and Wembley (considered by many to be acceptable).

Few, if any, commentators are predicting a raft of court cases for companies and their staff over-stepping the line, because nobody really knows where the line is.

This takes me back to the nineties when I was the recipient of an invitation from a major supplier to go and see the England football team play in Italy. I remember politely declining and admitting to the supplier they should save their investment as I’d resigned from my employer and was moving to a sector the supplier wasn’t capable of entering. Their response was telling and makes still makes me chuckle. “David, if you don’t go to the game, then neither can we,” I was told. “The boss specifically asked us to invite you. And besides, we really fancy it.”

I count several senior sales and marketing professionals among my colleagues and friends who are under no illusions as to what such invitations represent. They have managed to convince their own bosses that winning business would be too difficult if they didn’t have a budget for oiling the wheels and nurturing those “special” relationships.

They know, the hospitality industry knows, and we procurement professionals know such invitations are, at heart, cynical, transparent attempts to curry favour and build an atmosphere of obligation. This builds to the point where buyers feel just a little uncomfortable and embarrassed about placing business elsewhere.

As companies grapple with internal anti-bribery procedures, why don’t we in the profession embrace the twenty-first century and commit to saying “no” to such corporate hospitality? Why don’t we do right by our employers and stop giving the big spenders a marketing advantage by remaining focused on the value our suppliers provide and make them work a bit harder for the business they win from us.

And if you fancy a ticket to next year’s Wimbledon, how about buying your own?

This blog was first published in Supply Management magazine in July 2011.

By David Atkinson

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