United Kingdom

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are 20 partially or fully state-owned enterprises in the UK.  These enterprises range from large, well-known companies to small trading funds.  Since privatizing the oil and gas industry, the UK has not established any new energy-related state-owned enterprises or resource funds.

Privatization Program

The privatization of state-owned utilities in the UK is now essentially complete.  With regard to future investment opportunities, the few remaining government-owned enterprises or government shares in other utilities are likely to be sold off to the private sector when market conditions improve.

9. Corruption

Although isolated instances of bribery and corruption have occurred in the UK, U.S. investors have not identified corruption of public officials as a factor in doing business in the UK.

The Bribery Act 2010 came into force on July 1, 2011.  It amends and reforms the UK criminal law and provides a modern legal framework to combat bribery in the UK and internationally.  The scope of the law is extra-territorial.  Under the Bribery Act, a relevant person or company can be prosecuted for bribery if the crime is committed abroad.  The Act applies to UK citizens, residents and companies established under UK law.  In addition, non-UK companies can be held liable for a failure to prevent bribery if they do business in the UK.

Section 9 of the Act requires the UK Government to publish guidance on procedures that commercial organizations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf.  It creates the following offenses: active bribery, described as promising or giving a financial or other advantage, passive bribery, described as agreeing to receive or accepting a financial or other advantage; bribery of foreign public officials; and the failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery by an associated person (corporate offense).  This corporate criminal offense places a burden of proof on companies to show they have adequate procedures  in place to prevent bribery (http://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/business-integrity/bribery-act/adequate-procedures-guidance/ ).  To avoid corporate liability for bribery, companies must make sure that they have strong, up-to-date and effective anti-bribery policies and systems.  The Bribery Act creates a corporate criminal offense making illegal the failure to prevent bribery by an associated person.  The briber must be “associated” with the commercial organization, a term which will apply to, amongst others, the organization’s agents, employees, and subsidiaries.  A foreign corporation which “carries on a business, or part of a business” in the UK may therefore be guilty of the UK offense even if, for example, the relevant acts were performed by the corporation’s agent outside the UK.  The Act does not extend to political parties and it is unclear whether it extends to family members of public officials.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery 

The UK formally ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in December 1998.  The UK also signed the UN Convention Against Corruption in December 2003 and ratified it in 2006.  The UK has launched a number of initiatives to reduce corruption overseas.  The OECD Working Group on Bribery (WGB) criticized the UK’s implementation of the Anti-Bribery convention.  The OECD and other international organizations promoting global anti-corruption initiatives pressured the UK to update its anti-bribery legislation which was last amended in 1916.  In 2007, the UK Law Commission began a consultation process to draft a Bribery Bill that met OECD standards.  A report was published in October 2008 and consultations with experts from the OECD were held in early 2009.  The new Bill was published in draft in March 2009 and adopted by Parliament with cross-party support as the 2010 Bribery Act in April 2010.

Resources to Report Corruption 

UK law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government routinely implements these laws effectively.  The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is an independent government department, operating under the superintendence of the Attorney General with jurisdiction in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  It investigates and prosecutes those who commit serious or complex fraud, bribery, and corruption, and pursues them and others for the proceeds of their crime.

All allegations of bribery of foreign public officials by British nationals or companies incorporated in the United Kingdom—even in relation to conduct that occurred overseas—should be reported to the SFO for possible investigation.  When the SFO receives a report of possible corruption, its intelligence team makes an assessment and decides if the matter is best dealt with by the SFO itself or passed to a law enforcement partner organization, such as the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police (OACU) or the International Corruption Unit of the National Crime Agency.  Allegations can be reported in confidence using the SFO’s secure online reporting form: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/contact-us/reporting-serious-fraud-bribery-corruption/ 

Details can also be sent to the SFO in writing:

SFO Confidential
Serious Fraud Office
2-4 Cockspur Street
London, SW1Y 5BS
United Kingdom

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The UK’s labor force is just over 41 million people. For the period between December 2019 and February 2020, the employment rate was 76.6 percent, with 33 million workers employed – the highest employment rate since 1971. Unemployment also hit a 43-year low with 1.36 million unemployed workers, or just 4 percent (no change from a year earlier).

The most serious issue facing British employers is a skills gap derived from a high-skill, high-tech economy outpacing the educational system’s ability to deliver work-ready graduates.  The government has improved the British educational system in terms of greater emphasis on science, research and development, and entrepreneurial skills, but any positive reforms will necessarily deliver benefits with a lag.

As of 2018, approximately 23.5 percent of UK employees belonged to a union.  Public-sector workers have a much higher share of union members, at 52.5 percent, while the private sector is 13.2 percent.  Manufacturing, transport, and distribution trades are highly unionized. Unionization of the workforce in the UK is prohibited only in the armed forces, public-sector security services, and police forces.  Union membership has been relatively stable in the past few years, although the trend has been downward over the past decade.

Once-common militant unionism is less frequent, but occasional bouts of industrial action, or threatened industrial action, can still be expected.  Recent strike action was motivated in part by the Coalition Government’s deficit reduction program impacts on highly unionized sectors.  In the 2018, there were 273,000 working days lost from 81 official labor disputes.  The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British nation-wide labor federation, encourages union-management cooperation as do most of the unions likely to be encountered by a U.S. investor.

On April 1, 2020, the UK raised the minimum wage to GBP 8.72 ($10.86) an hour for workers ages 25 and over.  The increased wage impacts about 2 million workers across Britain.

The UK decision to leave the EU has also introduced uncertainty into the labor market, with questions surrounding the rights of workers from other EU countries currently in the UK, the future rights of employers to hire workers from EU countries, and the extent to which the UK will maintain EU rules on workers’ rights.

The 2006 Employment Equality (Age) Regulations make it unlawful to discriminate against workers, employees, job seekers, and trainees because of age, whether young or old.  The regulations cover recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals, and training.  They do not cover the provision of goods and services.  The regulations also removed the upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.  It sets a national default retirement age of 65, making compulsory retirement below that age unlawful unless objectively justified.  Employees have the right to request to work beyond retirement age and the employer has a duty to consider such requests.

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