How does the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) affect UK companies?

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), enacted in 1977 by the US government, aims to curb bribery of foreign officials by American companies and their subsidiaries around the world. While it’s a US law, its reach extends to UK companies doing business internationally. Let’s delve into the impact of the FCPA on UK businesses and explore key considerations.

Understanding the FCPA’s Reach:

The FCPA has two main provisions: anti-bribery and accounting controls.

  1. Anti-bribery: It prohibits offering or promising anything of value (money, gifts, hospitality) to a foreign official to obtain a business advantage. This extends to private companies indirectly influenced by foreign officials.
  2. Accounting Controls: It mandates companies to maintain accurate books and records that fairly reflect transactions. This helps prevent hiding bribes within financial statements.

UK Companies and the FCPA:

The FCPA applies to UK companies in two main scenarios:

  1. UK Subsidiaries of US Companies: A UK subsidiary of a US parent company automatically falls under the FCPA’s jurisdiction. The US parent company is liable for any FCPA violations by its UK subsidiary.
  2. UK Companies with US Securities Listings: If a UK company is publicly traded on US stock exchanges (e.g., NYSE, NASDAQ), it’s subject to the FCPA. This is because the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforces the FCPA.

Navigating the FCPA Maze:

Even if a UK company does not directly fall under the FCPA, it’s wise to be aware of its implications, especially when:

  1. Working with Third Parties: The FCPA extends liability to a company’s agents, consultants, and distributors. Carefully vetting third parties and implementing anti-bribery clauses in contracts can mitigate risks.
  2. Operating in High-Risk Markets: Certain countries have a higher prevalence of corruption. Implementing stricter internal controls and conducting due diligence on potential business partners in these regions is crucial.

Key Considerations for UK Companies:

  1. Develop and Enforce a Robust Anti-Bribery Policy: This policy should clearly define prohibited conduct, outline appropriate business practices, and establish a reporting mechanism for suspected violations.
  2. Conduct Anti-Bribery Training: Regular training for employees on the FCPA’s provisions and red flags of bribery can significantly reduce the risk of inadvertent violations.
  3. Implement Due Diligence Procedures: Before entering into business relationships, conduct thorough due diligence on potential partners, including their reputation and past business practices.
  4. Maintain Accurate Books and Records: The FCPA mandates accurate financial records. Establish strong internal controls and audit procedures to ensure transparency in financial transactions.

The FCPA and the UK Bribery Act:

The UK has its own anti-bribery legislation, the Bribery Act 2010. While both aim to combat bribery, they have some key differences:

  1. Scope: The FCPA focuses on foreign officials, while the Bribery Act applies to both public and private officials.
  2. Liability: The Bribery Act includes an offense of failing to prevent bribery, which isn’t present in the FCPA.

FCPA vs. UK Bribery Act

With the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act (UKBA) serving as key weapons in this global effort. While both aim to curb corruption, some key differences exist between the two. Let’s delve into these distinctions.

Who Gets Bribed?

The FCPA focuses on bribery of foreign officials, aiming to create a level playing field for American businesses abroad. The UKBA takes a broader approach, criminalising bribes to both public officials and private entities. This means a UK company can’t offer bribes to win a contract with a foreign company either.

Intent vs. Action

The FCPA hinges on intent. To be found guilty, the prosecution must prove the company offered the bribe with the specific purpose of securing a business advantage. The UKBA, however, adopts a stricter stance. It only requires proof that the bribe occurred, regardless of the specific intent behind it.

Corporate Culpability

Both the FCPA and UKBA hold companies liable for bribery by their employees or agents. However, the UKBA goes a step further. It introduces the concept of failure to prevent bribery. This means a company can be held liable even if it wasn’t directly involved in the bribe but failed to implement adequate anti-bribery procedures.


The FCPA imposes fines and imprisonment for individuals, with fines for companies capped at a specific amount. The UKBA offers more flexibility in penalties. Companies face unlimited fines, while individuals can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The Takeaway

While the FCPA and UKBA share the goal of combating bribery, companies operating internationally should be aware of the nuances between the two laws. The UKBA’s broader scope and stricter liability for companies necessitate a more robust anti-bribery compliance program. By understanding these differences, companies can navigate the global marketplace with confidence and minimize the risk of costly penalties.

Compliance Benefits Beyond Legal Concerns:

While FCPA compliance is essential to avoid hefty fines and reputational damage, it offers broader benefits:

  1. Enhanced Corporate Governance: Strong anti-bribery practices foster ethical business conduct and improve corporate governance.
  2. Building Trust with Stakeholders: A commitment to ethical conduct builds trust with investors, partners, and customers.
  3. Level Playing Field: FCPA compliance creates a more level playing field for companies competing internationally.

The FCPA’s reach extends beyond US borders, impacting UK companies in various scenarios. By understanding its provisions and implementing robust compliance measures, UK businesses can navigate the international business landscape ethically and successfully. Remember, a proactive approach to anti-bribery not only mitigates legal risks but also fosters a culture of integrity and strengthens a company’s reputation in the global marketplace.

Click here for further information on FCPA.




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