A global survey of accountants working in and for SMEs shows that 62 per cent believe small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are at risk from exposure to bribery and corruption, and one-third believe that the global financial crisis has caused businesses to be more prepared to mis-state figures in their annual accounts.
The report Combating Bribery in the SME Sector was conducted by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) amongst 1,000 of its global members. The findings reveal a concern that many SMEs are not taking the right steps to mitigate the risks of exposure to bribery and corruption.
John Davies, ACCA’s head of technical, says: 'While the major focus of attention in global anti-bribery and corruption efforts up until now has been on large companies and public bodies, it should not be forgotten that SMEs make up the great majority of businesses in all countries. It is not credible that the SME sector is immune from pressures to make illicit payments in order to win or retain contracts, and our survey bears this out.
'Encouragingly, most of the businesses that responded to the survey accept that bribery is damaging not only to the reputation of the wider business environment but to their own commercial interests, and large majorities acknowledge that a commitment to combating bribery stands to enhance their own position in the marketplace.'
In the foreword, Professor Mark Pieth, chairman of the OECD’s Working Group on bribery and international business transactions says more can be achieved to tackle bribery and corruption, commenting: 'To date, 306 companies and individuals have been sanctioned under criminal proceedings for foreign bribery since 1999. At least 83 of the sanctioned individuals were sentenced to prison. One company faced combined sanctions of €1.24bn for foreign bribery. However, sanctions have only been handed down in 13 of the 40 Convention countries. More can be done.'
The global findings show that:
- Thirty-one per cent think businesses have been willing to mis-state financial statements to cover up for corrupt behaviour since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007/8
- Seventy-five per cent believe high profile prosecutions would be most effective in helping SMEs reduce their bribery and corruption risk, followed by 65 per cent saying laws granting whistle-blowing rights to employees and businesses would be effective in combatting bribery and corruption.
- Seventy-one per cent of respondents believe SMEs would be able to spot bribery and corruption in relation to the offer of businesses-related gifts or unsolicited payments
- Seventy-seven per cent say that there is a strong business case for adopting effective anti-bribery credentials, saying this would enhance SMEs’ reputation for high standards of business conduct, 76 per cent believed that it would help them comply with legislation, and 69 per cent believed they would profit from enhanced consumer confidence in their business.
- Fifty per cent of global respondents do not think anti-bribery laws should incorporate a modified regime for SMEs; the strongest support came from south Asia where 55% think that anti-bribery laws should include a modified regime for SMEs.
- The strongest opposition for modifications came from Sub-Saharan Africa – 61 per cent; and Central and eastern Europe - 59 per cent.
Sarah Hathayway from ACCA UK, says: 'While these are global findings, the report has a clear message for accountants, SMEs and the government here in the UK. The full restoration of trust and confidence in the business sector can only be achieved when people believe that business is being conducted fairly and transparently. By adopting a values-based approach, businesses can help themselves and, indirectly, help to achieve the wider goal of enhancing confidence in the business sector as a whole. Accountants, who have twin responsibilities to give best advice to their employers or clients and an obligation to act in the public interest, have a major part to play in this process.'