When companies come clean on bribery

A global report on foreign corruption reveals a high rate of self-reporting by companies that paid bribes, a sign of the momentum to curb graft in both business and government.

AP Photo
Transparency International spokeswoman Maggie Murphy poses with a version of a rejected ad in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 4. Brisbane Airport Corp. rejected the ad as too political for G20 leaders. Murphy said the censorship was disappointing after her organization had effectively engaged with G20 governments on reducing corruption.

In October, the drilling firm Layne Christensen Co. agreed to pay nearly $5 million in federal fines over allegations that it paid bribes in Africa to win business. But here’s the real news: Because the company self-reported the “improprieties,” the penalty was about half of what it might have been. A confession led to mercy in enforcement.

In the United States, an estimated one-third of cases brought under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practice Act have been a result of companies self-disclosing bribery in their overseas transactions. One reason for this high level of legal – and moral – compliance is a 2010 law that gives whistle-blowers greater protection to report corruption.

But perhaps just as important, a global drive to curb foreign bribery keeps gaining momentum, especially because of better cooperation between 41 signatory countries to the 1999 Anti-Bribery Convention.

“Every day, more countries reject the notion that bribery in international business is inevitable and acceptable,” said Leslie Caldwell, head of the US Justice Department’s criminal division, in a speech last month. “Fighting corruption is not a choice we have made. It is, increasingly, a global imperative.”

Certainly more is now known about how companies pay bribes. In a report released Tuesday, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed details on more than 400 cases involving companies or individuals over the past 15 years. The most welcome news in the report is this: In nearly a third of anti-graft cases, the companies brought information about bribes to the attention of authorities.

In addition, more than two-thirds of cases against companies resulted in a settlement rather than convictions. The wrongdoing was perhaps too blatant to battle in court, or the companies decided to join the trend against corruption.

The OECD estimates that if corruption were an industry, it would be the third largest, accounting for about 5 percent of the global economy.

Fear of being caught may have indeed forced many of the confessions. But perhaps more company officials recognize the damaging effects of corruption. The OECD report found the financial penalties on companies prosecuted for bribery amounted to 34.5 percent of their profits, or about $13 million per bribe.

Honesty in business dealings brings with it a measure of immunity from even being asked to pay a bribe. Openness about corruption is always a big first step. In a recent report, the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International stated: “The world’s largest companies are increasingly committed to reporting on their measures for preventing corruption.”

Angel Gurría, the OECD’s secretary-general, says the world has been “fighting in the dark” until this report about actual cases. The information “brings us, for the first time, face to face with our foe.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to When companies come clean on bribery
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today