Ethical Implications of Business Gifts

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Giving of gifts is an act that establishes or enhances relationships of various kinds. Essentially, gifts are gesture of goodwill, gratitude and appreciation in many communities. However, giving is often associated with the philosophy of reciprocity, where the giver expects something in exchange for gifts. As a result, overly generous gifts in a business setting tend to put excess pressure on recipients to extend something in addition to goodwill to the giver. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the line between sincere gifting and bribery is thin and often distorted. This paper seeks to discuss whether giving of gifts in a business setting is ethical, with specific focus on the factors that contribute to the ethical dilemma, the perspectives of different cultures regarding gifting and bribery and the organizational frameworks for giving, receiving and reporting of gifts in a business setting.

Ethics Applied to Business Gifts

Problem Statement

Undoubtedly, giving and receiving of gifts has a significant role in the facilitation and maintenance of business practice and relationships. It is common for organizations to present stakeholders and business partners with gifts of various kinds. At times, nevertheless, the line between what may be defined as a gift or form of hospitality and what amounts to a bribe can be very unclear (Akerstrom, 2017). In such cases, the giving and receiving of gifts can result in organizations becoming vulnerable to accusations of unethical or unlawful practice.

With the moral views of the global community changing, bribery is now viewed with extreme intolerance in most parts of the world and in fact, virtually all nations worldwide consider bribery an illegal and shameful act. The problem for organizations, therefore, is the determination of when a gift amounts to a bribe.


Organizations need to establish and maintain relationships with a variety of stakeholders in order to operate efficiently. Sometimes these relationships involve the giving or acceptance of gifts of various kinds and in different circumstances. However, gift giving or receiving is a grey area in terms of ethical implications, as in some cases, the action of gifting a business partner is right while in some circumstances, the action is deemed unethical (Akerstrom, 2017). As a result, organizations often face ethical dilemmas in terms of establishing the ethical implications of accepting or giving gifts.

The complexities surrounding the ethical implications of gifting are numerous and challenging, especially given that different people, organizations and cultures have differing opinions regarding the distinction between a gift and a bribe. With regard to individuals, the distinction is usually based on the logical perspective of ethical practice and one’s own perception of the expectations attached with the gift.

As for organizations, corporate social responsibility and ethical compliance has instigated the establishment of policies and guidelines relating to acceptance and issuance of gifts. For most organizations, these policies offer a distinction between gifts and bribes and prohibit their employers from giving bribes under any circumstances. However, it is notable that the guidelines differ from one organization to another, which implies that what constitutes a gift from one organization could be deemed a bribe by a different institution (Graycar & Jancsics, 2017).

With regard to cultural influences, these have a significant impact on organizations and individuals alike. Gift giving as a social custom articulates deep socially accepted behavioral traditions, norms and ideals of mutuality and the nurturing of relationships between parties. For instance, the giving of gifts in China is prevalent in numerous areas of life including when interacting with family, friends, business associates and even persons with political authority (Tsetsura, 2015). In such cases, it is challenging to determine from an ethical perspective the appropriateness of giving or receiving a gift, determination of what constitutes a proper gift and not a bribe as well as the social obligations that gifts impose.

To draw the line between gifts and bribes in such dynamic environments, organizations must examine the relationships they have with various stakeholders and actors in their immediate environment to establish the correct protocol for giving and receiving gifts in an ethical manner. It is critical to establish the responsibility of the organization in evaluating the circumstances and factors surrounding issuance and acceptance of gifts and the various rules and regulations of different organizations and individuals that comprise the stakeholders of the organization (Graycar & Jancsics, 2017). It is also important to determine the difference in perceptions of gifts when received or awarded by conventional organizations and nonprofit institutions. Notably, the revenue of nonprofit organizations arises mostly from gifts and as such, establishment of criteria for differentiating between a bribe and a gift for these organizations is an issue requiring urgent address.


Akerstrom, M. (2017). Suspicious gifts: bribery, morality, and professional ethics. London: Routledge.

Graycar, A., & Jancsics, D. (2017). Gift giving and corruption. International journal of public administration, 40(12), 1013-1023.

Tsetsura, K. (2015). Guanxi, gift-giving, or bribery? Ethical considerations of paid news in China. Public Relations Journal, 9(2), 2.

January 19, 2024


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Company Ethics

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