The U.K. Bribery Act seems to generate two different reactions in the oil and gas industry, often depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean a company is located.
Parliament passed the long-awaited Bribery Bill into law in April, enacting the United Kingdom’s most significant piece of anti-corruption legislation to date. The Bribery Act makes it illegal for companies doing business in the U.K. to bribe government officials and is, in some ways, stricter than its counterpart legislation in the United States, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The act has an equally broad jurisdiction to that of the FCPA, and many speculate that the act will spark a new wave of corporate compliance reform.
On Monday, the Financial Times reported, “The UK’s strict new bribery law is prompting a nervous flurry of preparation among London’s multinational mining and oil companies, which now face unlimited liability for failing to prevent corrupt acts of any employee round the world.”
This “nervous flurry” contrasts sharply with a “wait-and-see attitude” described to me by oil and gas in-house counsel in Houston. The feeling in Texas is that companies will deal with adapting to the Bribery Act after the U.K. issues guidance and implements the law in April 2011. As on general counsel in Houston put it, “We’re just keeping the powder dry at this point.”
So, why the divergent attitudes?
One answer is that U.S. oil and gas companies have had an FCPA bullseye on their back for years, which has caused much of the industry to adopt robust anti-corruption compliance procedures. While the Bribery Act differs from the FCPA in some ways, many of the folks I spoke to in Houston felt their compliance programs were prepared for the bulk of the new U.K. law.
As one lawyer pointed out to the FT, “The many UK multinationals that comply with FCPA already have a head start.”