The Martini Shot: Ethics not a county next to Sussex
by Bobby Amm. Part of the Commercial Producers Association (CPA)’s mandate is to promote professional and ethical business practice in the production sector and this is becoming more imperative than ever before, thanks to the downturn in the industry and the resultant pressure on companies now competing harder than ever for a piece of the shrinking pie.
Commissions of inquiry
With the Zondo and Nugent commissions of inquiry in the news these days, there’s been a lot of talk generally about what constitutes corruption and how prevalent the practice really is in South African life. People tend to think corruption happens only in government. The reality is that it’s not confined to politicians and bureaucrats but occurs regularly in business, too, particularly in SMEs which tend to be particularly vulnerable to its scourge as they usually don’t have the proper protocols in place to identify and deal with the problem.
In an industry based very strongly on the power of relationships, it might be tempting, for example, to thank your agency client with a bottle of champagne or a lunch following a successful shoot. Is this type of relationship-building permissible or could one of your competitors accuse you of trying to influence your client to award you the next job as, well rather than considering one of your competitors? And what about a scenario where one of your production manager’s favourite suppliers, which has recently fallen on hard times, offers a cash reward for all future business brought to their company? Is that ethical or would your PM be engaging in a corrupt relationship if they were to agree?
South Africa has specific legislation that deals with the thorny subject of corruption: the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (no. 12 of 2004). This says that corruption occurs when one party gives another party anything of value with the purpose of influencing them to abuse their power.
Although an expensive gift given to a client may seem a lot more incriminating than a bunch of flowers, the value of the ‘gratification’ isn’t important. What’s significant is the intent to improperly influence the client to act in your favour now and in the future.
Questions to ask
Because much of this may seem subjective, the legal experts recommend that you ask yourself the following questions if you find yourself in a position where you are unsure:
- Am I trying to make the person indebted to me with the gift, or is it just a small token to ensure my company is remembered?
- Am I trying to buy influence with expensive entertainment or does it merely provide an opportunity to network?
- How would I feel if one of my competitors did the same thing? Would I be comfortable if they found out what I did?
If you think that you may lose the job you are pitching on or any future work if you don’t provide the gifts and entertainment, the warning signs of corruption are already there.
Person soliciting is guilty
It’s also important to remember that a person soliciting a gift, favour or any other type of gratification may also be guilty of corruption, so it’s advisable never to request these from a supplier — even in a humorous way — as this could very easily be interpreted as inappropriate, particularly if your other suppliers are in the habit of giving you expensive gifts but this particular company isn’t. A supplier should never feel obligated to provide a gift in order to land a contract or to secure repeat business.
Most larger companies and corporates will usually have guidelines around what’s acceptable when it comes to the exchange of gifts and favours; however, some people, such as government officials and procurement officers, have a higher standard to which they must adhere as their conduct is legally regulated thorough codes of conduct. As a result, it’s never advisable to engage in any activity that could be perceived to be corrupt with anyone in the public sector.
It’s advisable for all companies to encourage a culture of ethical behavior, as corruption (together with its associated crimes: fraud, facilitation, price fixing and extortion) is bad for business and the economy and, more insidiously, it erodes morality and unravels the fabric of society. We need to do more to step up and reverse the trend or our industry will be all the poorer for it.
Steps to follow
The CPA encourages every member, client and supplier to implement the following steps to stamp out corruption and unethical practices in our industry:
Commit to ethical business practice
It’s important for management to lead by example and inform everyone that they want to work in an ethical and legally sound environment.
Talk to your employees
Your employees are best placed to identify unethical or corrupt practices within your business or the industry. Talk to them to understand where the threats lie.
Make rules and communicate them
Work together with your employees to draw up a code of ethics for your business. Encourage them to use it when the need arises. The best response is really simple: “My company’s rules don’t allow that and I could lose my job.”
Make it part of everyday business practice
Change established practices that may encourage unethical practices such as kickbacks. Find other ways to incentivise and reward staff. Ensure that all freelancers are familiar with the way things work and subscribe to your company policy.
Have an open door
Encourage your employees and associates to communicate with you regarding any concerns or questions they may have, even if they wish to do so anonymously. Encourage debates around ethics to increase awareness about what’s ok and what’s not.
Act when your code is transgressed. To do otherwise sets a bad example.
Recognise ethical behavior
Uphold your company values by recognising people for exemplary behavior. You might award them with trophy or special mention which recognises that they are the person who best exemplified the company’s business values.
The best way to stamp out corruption is to report it to the relevant authorities. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, if you’re in a position of authority and know of corruption involving R100 000 or more, it’s a crime not to report it to the police.
Consider collective action, if necessary
In some environments, corruption is endemic and, to deal with this, collective action may be required. It’s far easier if companies work together to end corrupt practices within an industry.
Bobby Amm is chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market. After a brief stint in journalism, she began her career in the industry at the Consultative Committee for the Entertainment Industry in the early 1990s. She first joined the CPA in 1997 but left three years later to join a production company. After finding that she missed the big-picture perspective of the CPA and the interesting issues which continuously perplex the production industry, Bobby returned to the CPA in 2003. She contributes “The Martini Shot” column monthly, covering developments, trends and insights into the commercial production and film services industries in South Africa, to MarkLives.
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