Charles Gutjahr

Melbourne, Australia

Aren't all corporate gifts actually bribes?

Barry O’Farrell, Premier of New South Wales, announced today that he will resign due to accepting an expensive bottle of wine as a gift and failing to tell yesterday’s ICAC hearing about it.

I make no judgement on him, but it did make me wonder why companies give out gifts. Why invite even a whiff of corruption by doing that?

When a gift is a bribe…

I know several people who have received corporate gifts from companies trying to gain or maintain their business. These are relatively small things: tickets to a sporting match, a free dinner and drinks, movies tickets, etc. Those people all accepted the gifts, and apparently didn’t consider them to be bribes. There seems to be a widespread acceptance that corporate gifts are a normal and legitimate promotional tool.

But surely most people would consider it to be bribery if a sales rep gives you $100 cash in a private meeting where he touts for business from your employer? So how is it different if a company gives you a $100 sporting ticket in a private email and calls it a ‘corporate gift’? I don’t see the distinction: for me, a corporate gift is a bribe.

There has been much scorn for the characters appearing at ICAC who gave away expensive corporate gifts; I’d like to see that same public scorn for all corporate gifts.

…and when legitimate promotion

I think the reason we’re too accepting of corporate gifts is that people mix them up with legitimate promotion.

When a company promotes itself to you, the primary value you should get out of the promotion is that company selling you a great product or service which helps your business. If the primary value you get out the promotion is the cash value of a gift, then it’s a bribe.

My view is:

  • Giving away a free sample of your product to a potential client is legitimate promotion, whereas giving away someone else's product is a bribe
  • Giving away an inexpensive branded item such as a pen is legitimate promotion, whereas giving away a desirable luxury pen is a bribe
  • Giving away an expensive item as a prize in a competition is legitimate promotion, whereas giving away that prize directly to a person of your choosing is a bribe

One thing I hope Australians learn from today’s events is: don’t associate yourself with the kind of company that thinks it’s OK to hand out corporate gifts.

Charles Gutjahr

I'm a web application developer, occasional photographer and full-time nerd. This is my blog.