Examining the ethics of corporate gift giving
As the festive season intensifies, businesses up and down the country will be preparing presents for more than just family and friends. Today, the act of corporate gift giving is seen as an essential part of maintaining healthy working relationships with clients, suppliers and even employees. However, if this act of gratitude is abused, companies can find themselves in hot water.
While gifts can be given as a gesture of goodwill, or simply to remain in thoughts of someone, overly generous corporate gift giving can put unnecessary pressure on the recipient to extend more than a reciprocal response. A gift is given freely without the expectation of anything in return, whereas a bribe is given in the expectation of achieving undue influence over someone or a company. And remember, a ‘gift’ doesn’t have to be in monetary form to constitute a bribe.
To avoid any confusion when giving or receiving gifts around Christmas, or any other time of year, companies should consider the following before committing to gifting:
Timing – The timing of sending or receiving a gift is essential to this debate. If Christmas is approaching, then it would be appropriate to send a gift of some sort out to a client (within reason, of course). However, if you are in the middle of tending for some business or trying to secure a job, sending a gift to the recipient could be conceived as an attempt to sway their judgement.
Monetary Value – Is what you’re sending or receiving proportionate to your relationship with the recipient or sender? If what you are planning to send or receive seems out of the ordinary in terms of your relationship with that company, then it probably isn’t proportionate nor is it appropriate. A couple of tickets for a box at Wembley to the FA Cup Final would be an odd thing to send to a supplier who you have used only once that year.
Cultural Considerations – A gift worth £20 may seem like a fairly insignificant amount in Britain but may be regarded as over the top in another culture. In Japan, it is custom to present a gift of some sort when completing business with a company as it demonstrates respect and friendship. Cultural considerations should be researched and examined before conducting business.
Would you/they be able to reciprocate? – Would you be able to reciprocate the gift you have received? Would your recipient realistically be able to do the same with something you have sent? If the answer is no, it is probably best to steer clear of those particular gifts. Placing someone in your ‘debt’ due to the size or monetary value of the gift you have sent is a sure-fire way of trying to gain undue influence.
Company policy – What does your or their company policy say concerning accepting or sending gifts? This should be your first point of reference when wanting to send out corporate gifts. And if your company doesn’t currently have one, irrespective of size, you should implement a corporate policy to protect against these sorts of ethical dilemmas in the future.
Examine motives – This consideration can only truly be answered by the gift-sender – only they will be confident of the motive. If you are sending a gift with the expectation, no matter how little, of receiving something in return that isn’t a simple ‘thank you’, then you should refrain from sending the gift in the first place.
If you are intent on sending out a gift to clients or suppliers this Christmas, why not gift something that demonstrates corporate social responsibility? Yes, it may be a little less ‘sexy’ than a crate of expensive French wine, but it is a guaranteed way of avoiding controversy and potential prosecution. Gifting to a charity in the name of the recipient cannot be misconstrued as anything other than a good deed, can it?