The strange thing is how rare this is in the UK

A Sainsbury’s potato buyer accepted £5 million in corrupt payments from a key supplier, staying at Claridge’s and taking luxury holidays in return for a lucrative contract.

I have worked in parts of the world where this is actually the point of contract negotiations. Who gets what slice in the middle. This is actually what takes all the time and effort, not whether to be corrupt but how to be so.

I\’ve also worked in the UK and the subject has never even raised its head. Not even working with advertising companies which, as we all know, are staffed with the scum of the Earth.

I have a very strong feeling that there are many who don\’t realise quite how lucky and unusual we are with the business culture in the UK.

In at least one country I can think of those in business reading the Sainsbury\’s story will be wondering whether they\’re nicking enough themselves. Almst everyone in British industry will be horrified that it was happening in our green and pleasant land.

12 thoughts on “The strange thing is how rare this is in the UK”

  1. One of my cousins is a buyer for Sainsbury. And although he is managing to bring up a family in the environs of London, I wouldn’t say he’s the richest person I know. But, then, I don’t think he does potatoes.

  2. A business culture largely created by Quakers and Methodists. Two churches which are declining fast, regrettably.

  3. It’s less explicit. Our culture has this idea that talking about money is all a bit grubby.

    So, suppliers don’t hand over bundles of notes. They take people out to the F1, Twickenham, Cheltenham, fly them to “sales conferences” in Spain or the US.

  4. The best “bribe” I was ever offered was a pair of Calcutta Cup tickets and associated hospitality before and after the match. As they were in the bidding process at the time, I had to refuse (and they knew it.)

    But, if I had been the type to be influenced by such an offer, I would now know that once that company were one of the incumbents, then similar such would be very likely to be available and, subject to some restrictions on extravagance, the corporate rules I was working to at the time would have permitted me to accept such.

    Interestingly, I can’t remember the name of the company nor whether they did get any business from us. The MD drove an imported Nissan Skyline GT-whatever, though.

  5. Dominic Allkins


    Since I agree wholeheartedly with the vast majority of what you write, I’ll let the scum of the earth comment pass.

    I do work for an advertising agency but I also a rapacious, swivel-eyed, baby eating free-market capitalist so figure that excludes me from the ‘scum’ description.


  6. Sadly, despite having worked in management positions awarding contracts in Russia and Nigeria, I have had almost no attempts made to bribe me. I expect it’s because I’m a Brit and – as the post implies – we’re pretty squeaky clean. An Italian I knew in Sakhalin made sure his nest was feathered almost before his bag was unpacked. He didn’t last long.

    Probably the most amusing attempt was a mate of mine getting wind that I was renting a warehouse and yard for $5k per month. He came up with the bright idea that I could rent a warehouse from him for $4k: he gets $3k, I get $1k, everyone wins. He really couldn’t understand there was a problem here. Just to humour him, I went to see this warehouse he was offering. It was an enormous farm shed in the middle of nowhere, rammed full to the brim with potatoes.

  7. In the realm of legally-aided criminal defence work, with which I am sadly acquainted, I have heard on one occasion of a defendant in a big case (big = lots of paperwork + lots of time spent preparing and/or at trial; these being the prime multipliers on which fees are calculated in UK taxpayer-funded criminal defence and prosecution work for solicitors and barristers) demanding a kick-back from his solicitors from the fee they would be paid, or else he would take his legal aid certificate elsewhere.

    I’m sure the story was told truthfully. I don’t know if the solicitors came up with the readies. I had the distinct impression they had approached their chosen barrister for a contribution to keeping their mutual lay client on board.

    It’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often. Or maybe it does, and I’m living in cloud-cuuckoo land. However, militating against this kind of behaviour are relatively stringent barriers to a defendant changing his solicitors, that is, transferring his legal aid certificate elsewhere.

    On a related note, I once had an Egyptian defendant ask me whether it would be possible, in return for payment of a fee to the judge, to make a case go away. I couldn’t quite believe my ears at the time, not least because of the unfazed manner in which he asked the question: it was as if he saw such payment as proper reimbursement for his (alleged, as it then was) wrongdoing. A bit like a fine on conviction, I suppose.

  8. About us ad-men, it must be said that the illegal money is generally not passed around by our initiative, but rather by solitary representatives of potential clients demanding “kickback,” and the like. And that the possibility of one man, with very little surveillance, spending large amounts of company money, is somewhat particular to large state involvement in the economy.

    It’s not considered corrupt activity, but in my country the ad-agencies has two (loose) price lists, one for private business and one for the state. Some bureaucrats feel mighty important if you charge them quite preposterous sums for merely tidying up and decorating their reports – and it feels nice to accommodate them.

  9. I’m afraid you are all sorely naive if you think this is not going on throughout UK businesses. It is more rife than you know but has various guises. I do not condone or support this way of doing business however the supermarket giants are all guilty to some degree of extorting their suppliers.

    Tim adds: “however the supermarket giants are all guilty to some degree of extorting their suppliers.”

    Possibly: but as this is a story of the supplier extorting the supermarket, not the most relevant of comments?

  10. The remaining question from KitKat’s post is whether (s)he’s talking about extortion meaning bribery or effective monopsony (or even cartel) pricing.

    Given the rates farmers say they are being paid, an extra brown envelope for the supermarket buyer would be more widely reported. Even informally.

    The monopsony may be objectonable to some people but most of us don’t work in agriculture anymore.

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