The following was originally published in the American Society of São Paulo’s October 2014 newsletter, the Forum:
Last year during the holidays, I received panettone, Italian bread, from a business contact. Could accepting panettone get me into trouble at work?
Dear Sweet Tooth,
Accepting a gift from a business contact could result in a conflict of interest but unless stuffed with cash or coated in gold, receiving panettone should not get you in trouble since it’s a low-cost consumable. Nonetheless, the details of the situation matter and here are five questions to consider beyond value when accepting gifts.
- What was the gift giver’s intent? Regardless of the value, if you believe the gift was given with the intent to gain a favor in return, you should not accept it.
- Does accepting the gift violate company policy or anti-corruption laws? Many companies must adhere to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and/or the UK Bribery Act in addition to local laws.
- What are your job responsibilities? Employees with procurement responsibilities are generally prohibited from accepting gifts of any kind from business contacts as it could appear to compromise your integrity or influence your work-related decisions.
- How often does this person give you gifts? Frequency matters. Repeated gifts from the same people, however small, could appear to be an attempt to gain influence.
- Does it feel right? How would you feel if the details were in a newspaper article? If you are uncomfortable with the answer, then don’t accept the gift. This is commonly referred to as the “newspaper test”.
Consult with your company’s office of ethics or compliance well before the holidays to better understand the company’s gift policies in light of your specific responsibilities and which anti-corruptions laws would apply.
Send your ethical dilemmas and questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was written by Erica Winter, an International Business Ethics Consultant from Washington, D.C.