The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: The Ethics of Corporate Gifts

opinion

The festive season is once again upon us and corporate year-end parties and banquets are now the order of the day as companies put a cap on the business activities of 2012 in preparation for 2013.

The festive season is also a moment when companies give and/or receive corporate gifts from business partners, clients, suppliers, etc.

A corporate gift is normally a spontaneous gesture of appreciation and goodwill that is meant to build or cement existing relationships. It is given to show appreciation for a job well done, for help given, or just as an expression of love.

Corporate gifts can take many forms, from monetary donations to objects such as cars, shopping vouchers, sponsored holiday trips, etc. Corporate gifts exchange hands as business operators seek to cement and grow strong relationships with their business partners, going forward.

But are all gifts exchanged between companies, and gifts given to company executives and officers by suppliers and possible business partners a mere gesture of goodwill? Aren't they gifts given to exert undue pressure on the recipient so that he/she is influenced to make a business decision that is favourable to the gift giver? When does one draw a line between a sincere gift and a gift as an effort to exert undue influence? These are pertinent questions that every responsible business leader should seek answers for.

Undue influence may be exerted to manipulate one's decision if the gift giver is looking for business with the recipient's company, or there may be other matters of material interest to the gift donor that are currently pending with the recipient's firm, or that the gift recipient is in a position to influence decisions to the benefit of the giver.

The key issue on receiving corporate gifts should therefore be whether after receiving the gift one would still be able to conduct business fairly, and whether stakeholders will perceive the recipient's relationship with the gift giver as ethical. In economies characterised by rent-seeking and manipulative business relationships, businesses are normally seen falling on each other in a rush to offer gifts to Government officials and politicians in order to secure the later's favours.

In like manner, gifts that change hands between staff members of the same firm can equally be problematic. For example, a gift can be mistaken for a bribery or attempt to exert undue influence especially if the gift receiver is a senior staff member such as one's immediate boss. This could be so when there are prospects of a promotion in the foreseeable future. Under such circumstances and even with the best of intentions, the gift giver may run the risk of appearing as though he/she is trying to secure the promotion by offering a "tantalising gift".

The controversy that always surrounds corporate gifts has seen different companies coming up with company policies governing the giving and receiving of gifts. Such policies and guidelines obviously need to be very specific so that those in departments like procurement, marketing, and public affairs, who are in direct contact with clients and suppliers, have a clear understanding of the set parameters.

Some firms have a complete ban on gifts, and others limit the value of the gift they give or receive, and still others define situations in which gifts can be given or received. So before one decides to give or receive a corporate gift, it is important to have a strong understanding of the stipulated policy on receiving/giving gifts, and check with that of the recipient to make sure there isn't any infringement of his/her company's policies.

And as corporations exchange these gifts, they must continue to remember the less privileged whose spirits they can raise by offering a few Christmas gifts. Those in children's homes, the elderly, the terminally ill, the orphans, and the homeless are some of the disadvantaged groups corporations should support by availing gifts that will enable them to share with the rest of us the joy and happiness of the festive season.

Till we meet again next year, stay blessed and enjoy a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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