When does a gift become a bribe?

The year end is approaching, and with that the holiday season is fast approaching. You might be making plans on where to spend the Christmas Eve and what to get everyone as a Christmas gift. When it comes to your private life, this may be an easy task but what about in the context of your work? A question of where to draw the line between a gift and a bribe may come to mind and this is why the ethical spotlight is now aimed at revisiting the rules on Gifts and Hospitality.

Giving a gift is a universal way to show interest, appreciation, and gratitude, as well as strengthen bonds with others. It is normal to want to treat your business contacts well, send a Christmas card or maybe show courtesy with a small gift. However, the line between legitimate gift or business entertainment and a bribe can be difficult to evaluate. Conflicts of interest can arise and an employee may put himself or the company vulnerable to accusations of unethical or even unlawful conduct.
A gift is something of value given without the expectation of return. A bribe on the other hand, is the same thing but with the expectation of influence or benefit. Both can be monetary, actual items or they can be tickets to an event, like different sporting events or entertainment, such as dinners or concerts. Even if bribers are generally thought of being in the form of cash, that is not always the case. Also, while a modest gift given around Christmas might not raise too many eyebrows, a gift given at the time of a tender process could be considered a bribe, no matter how innocent it might be. You should always be aware of the timing as well.
A Stora Enso sales team has sometimes been requested by their customers to provide gifts of substantial values around holiday seasons. These gifts are intended to be used as lottery prices during the customers’ annual employee parties. During these parties, the employees of the customer can participate in a lottery (without any cost) and if lucky, win different prices. It has been common locally for suppliers to send their customers valuable gifts, such as a smart phone or expensive cosmetics, to be used as these prices. In some extreme cases, customers could also request us to pay partly or entirely for their annual party.
These gifts and expenses, sometimes also be requested in the name of ‘sponsorship’, are never acceptable. Stora Enso shall never request them from our suppliers, nor shall we provide to our customers. They are not reasonable nor made from good will. The fact that the gifts are randomly distributed to the customer’s employees does not change that. Providing these gifts and expenses has a very high risk of being considered as providing bribery and therefore is absolutely forbidden.

As you can see, this is a very tricky area that invites a lot of questions and interpretations. In Stora Enso, we have extensive guidance on giving and receiving gifts and hospitality and this is the perfect time to recap them on our Business Practice Policy chapter 7 and by going through the Spotlight material from here.
Ethics and Compliance

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