The British Chamber of Shipping has published guidelines to the UK Bribery Act 2010 (the “Act”), which came into force on 1 July 2011. The purpose of the guidelines is stated as being “to provide general background and highlight points to be taken into account when considering issues raised by the Bribery Act”.

The guidance sets out the legislative background to the Act and considers the three key areas of activity which it targets (namely classic bribery, hospitality and facilitation payments). It considers facilitation payments in more detail, as these are likely to be encountered on a regular basis in the shipping industry. In many areas of the world, small “gifts” are necessary to ensure prompt completion of certain administrative formalities, such as customs clearance or port entry formalities. Such “gifts” amount to facilitation payments, which are illegal under the Act, and the guidance states that companies to which the Act applies must adopt a zero tolerance approach.

The development of company policies to combat the offences set out in the Act is considered in detail. The factors influencing such policies are set out, including company size and structure, the nature of any overseas operations and the nature of any demands for facilitation payments which may be received. A six step approach for resisting such demands is also included.

The Chamber of Shipping states that these guidelines are not to be treated as legal advice. Further, it specifically states that they “are not intended to represent a definitive position or substitute the need for taking specialist advice in the development of company policies”. This highlights the fact that each company to whom the Act will apply must take responsibility for putting in place the policies required by the Act, and for ensuring that its business is run in such a way that the provisions of the Act will not be breached.

The nature of the shipping industry makes bribery a serious concern, and all companies to whom the Act may apply should make themselves aware of its provisions. The UK Ministry of Justice has published detailed guidance and a “quick start guide” which will be very helpful in this regard.