With anti-corruption laws in the spotlight and increased attention on compliance in order to avoid the hefty fines and jail time that being non-compliant can entail, there’s no better time to tackle some of the corruption issues companies are facing.
On Thursday I attended the Spotlight on Anti-Corruption Day of Dialogue in Toronto, presented by Transparency International and sponsored by Bennett Jones and Deloitte. An impressive lineup of discussion leaders and moderators talked frankly about the current issues in the fight against corruption. Chatham House rules dictate that I can’t quote the speakers, but the same rules allowed for lively and open discussions.
At the session on whistleblowing as a tool for fighting corruption, discussion surrounded the pressure whistleblowers face to not come forward in the first place, and the backlash they often experience once they do. A person’s right to anonymity is sometimes sacrificed in the evidence phase, during which the company and counsel’s interests are not necessarily aligned with those of the whistleblower.
Discussions also touched on the need for stronger protection of Canadian whistleblowers and better incentives for them to come forward, considering the grave risks they face by doing so.
During the roundtable on anti-corruption laws, discussion leaders and participants debated whether corruption is increasing or whether we are more aware of it today due to better laws and enforcement. Huge fines and the fact that there are senior executives of large corporations doing jail time in the US have boosted public awareness. That said, the fact that the OECD guidelines are considered to be unenforceable and treated as a bit of a joke, and that Canada has only managed to lay one corruption charge, underscores the need for changes in perception of the problem and application of the law.
Much as impaired driving, which used to be considered “culturally acceptable” 15 or 20 years ago, is now considered heinous, anti-corruption initiatives need exposure and advocacy. What MADD and national educations programs did for drunk driving, corruption fighters need to do for their cause.
What is Corruption?
Participants in the session on the cultural versus legal definitions of corruption examined the idea of “relationships” as a necessary tool in business. The question, though, is where you draw the line between cultivating relationships to build trust and confidence in a country in which you plan to do business, and courtship that borders on or crosses into the territory of bribery.
Participants also discussed what “corrupt intent” means in the application of the law and the idea of willful blindness. Lively discussion ensued around whether or not there is such a thing as a culture of corruption. There is no culture in the world that condones corruption; it’s acknowledged in some, but not acceptable in any, said one of the discussion leaders.
The session on due diligence and compliance included discussion on issues surrounding the degree of screening necessary for entering markets that have different levels of risk. In a high risk scenario, a company is advised to send teams into a country to assess risk and get to know the culture and dangers before launching into the market. Do your homework and accept that, in some cases, practicing business with ethics may mean you don’t make as much money.
Stay tuned as we explore these and other issues sparked by the discussions in subsequent blog posts.