I drove in to the village to pick up a takeaway curry recently. It is an almost universal truth that any village in the United Kingdom has at least two pubs and a curry house. Curry is almost our national dish. I enjoyed an excellent achari gosht, chicken tikka, dal tadka, mushroom rice, naan, and a load of poppadums to start with. But I digress…
While waiting to pick it up, I got chatting to the owner, Sam, a man of small stature but large character. He asked how I was, how work was going. Idle chit chat, as per, but then he looked at me and said, “Do you know, I’ve never actually asked what you do!” It is always a difficult subject to cover, as it is not as simple as, “accountant” or “plumber”. Therefore, I gave my usual response, “I work in anti-corruption. Basically, we help companies avoid doing business with bad people, and help stop the financial activities of those bad people.” He smiled at me. “Ah! I come from India. We have corruption! Can you go and deal with it?”
While Sam is right, it is wrong to cast certain countries as “bad” and others as “good” when it comes to corruption. Yes, it is a problem in India, no one would deny that, but there is bribery and corruption at some level everywhere.
Most estimates put the global cost of corruption at around 5% of global gross domestic product. At least $2.6 trillion ($2,600,000,000,000).
To put it mildly, that is a bloody huge amount of money. That money slips out of the legitimate economy in to the pockets of a tiny, corrupt minority. It gives them opportunity. The opportunity to drive luxury cars, own works of art, holiday on super yachts and live in high-end real estate. It does not buy hospitals, schools, clean water, or transport infrastructure. It does not buy real opportunity.
Now, it is probably a flight of fancy to think that we are going to see corruption and bribery wiped out in a decade, but positive steps are being taken in the right direction. More and more countries are adopting more stringent Anti-Bribery and Corruption (ABC) controls, such as Sapin II in France, which gives the authorities powers to prosecute a company just for having inadequate ABC procedures, as well as enabling punishments both corporate and personal for any actual acts of bribery or corruption. As I write, the U.S. Foreign & Corrupt Practices Act has had its third largest year in terms of financial penalties – $2.6bn . Considering what has been going on this year, that is remarkably positive, both in terms of prosecution, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in terms of acting as a deterrent – you do not want to be the next one on that list.
The majority of the legislation and regulation around the world is aimed very firmly at a company level. Businesses around the world have to comply with the UK Bribery Act, the FCPA and that ever growing raft of international laws. ABC training, policy and procedures and communication are now an everyday part of almost every business. Does the onus of fighting corruption lie on the shoulders of companies and governments alone? Of course not, and here’s where it gets interesting and, hopefully, yet more positive. Individuals. Us.
We are all consumers, and how we purchase products and services is changing. E-commerce will account for 22% of global retail sales by 2023 . When we shop in a “bricks and mortar” establishment, we (rightly or wrongly) have a degree of trust that the retailer has carried out adequate due diligence in to their supply chain, that they have taken steps to ensure their products are produced and distributed in an ethical, sustainable and honest manner. With much of the e-commerce world, some of that responsibility falls on the consumer. As a recent and horribly relevant illustration, during the recent pandemic, it transpired that Personal Protective Equipment available was manufactured using forced labour .
Thankfully, there are a couple of developing trends that are coming together to help the consumer. Firstly, it is the consumers themselves. We are increasingly willing to pay more for “better” products, for a more ethical, sustainable supply chain to bring those products to our doors. Bribery and corruption goes against those ethical values, and as an additional benefit, if consumers spend a little more, there is less reason for companies to cut corners. A good thing. Secondly, the global information landscape has exploded, in an exponential way, meaning that those consumers looking for more ethical products can more easily find out the information they need themselves.
Businesses are getting better at spotting and stopping corruption. They have to be. Enforcement and punishments await those who do not. Governments around the world are increasingly working together to bring those enforcement actions, to tighten the net around the corrupt few who are denying opportunity to the deserving many.
Sam is right when he says, “We have corruption.” Every country does. However, we can all play our small part in preventing it.