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When anti-corruption joins the party

Compared to other corporate sustainability activities, anti-corruption may not be the sexiest of topics to discuss at a dinner with friends, but it's good for business - in more ways than one. 

It is Friday morning. Monica looks forward to a weekend with her family and a long-planned dinner party with some good friends on Saturday evening. An e-mail with the headline ”Compliance e-learning course” appears in the inbox and kills the thoughts of the weekend in a second. Oh no, not again she thinks. It is the yearly reminder of the company’s policies on anti-corruption. An online course, which must be completed within two weeks, otherwise she will receive a reminder and finally an e-mail from the top management making sure all employees are aware of the company policy.

Anti-corruption adds value internally and externally

Let us face the fact; anti-corruption is hardly viewed as a sexy topic. No matter how the company tries to implement the anti-corruption programme, it is most often met by sighs whether it is in-person training, an e-learning course, an awareness campaign or witty competitions on the corporate intranet.

Nevertheless, legislation such as the American Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and UK Bribery Act dictate that all businesses must be on top of policies, risk assessments, training and documentation. The purpose is to ensure they take anti-corruption seriously and operate a healthy business model that does not let employees bypass the laws in their pursuit of the next contract. However, what often remains unsaid both during internal training and in communication in general, is the fact that anti-corruption is also a good business case.

Last week I spoke to an employee who had visited a supplier. Shortly before departure, she had received a bag of trade samples in acknowledgement for her visit. Nothing extraordinary or strange. However, before leaving, she finds by coincidence an envelope containing an iPad and a personal note with hopes for good and long-lasting cooperation. She gets furious. Walks into the office of the responsible manager, slams the iPad down on the table in front of him, while telling him that this is not the way to become supplier to her company. Consequently, the supplier was excluded for a year.

Trust is a good business-case

When discussing how anti-corruption relates to business, it is worth taking into consideration whether we as consumers would buy medicine, foods or air tickets for our family knowing that the supplier used bribery when negotiating their contract. Would we believe in the quality illustrated in their advertisements? Hardly. Personally, I would rather deal with a trustworthy company. A great number of research findings confirms that other consumers as well as business customers act the same way. This illustrates well that it pays off to have a reputation as an anti-corrupt business. Not only committed on paper but also practiced throughout the business by employees and managers at the top.

Moreover, it makes sense to take a clear position and actively engage in anti-corruption in order to attract new employees. If we look at the Millennium generation, words like ethics, sustainability and “order in own house” pop-up as central parameters in their job search.

The question is what happens in real life when the ball is rolling and you are faced with KPI’s and strict sales targets. Does this lead us to sidestep the company policies? "Yes", if the anti-corruption programme is regarded as an add-on, where focus is brought to the topic only once a year via the compliance e-learning course and not integrated as a natural part of the everyday decision-making. On the other hand, the answer is "no", if the course is supported by dialogue and a management that repeats the message and shows they take it seriously by walking the talk. For instance, by making space for questions on the challenges and dilemmas that arise when turning down contracts from customers indicating that a little extra bonus would be well received.

In fact, a solid anti-corruption policy is a sales parameter and good company governance is most often equalised with good quality. When you do honest business, people have confidence in you as a trustworthy trading partner who fulfils agreements and contracts. The objective is for the anti-corruption programme to support business and not merely be perceived as an extra fluffy layer of bureaucracy.

Obviously, the target is to make employees like Monica tell her friends with pride at the Saturday evening party how her manager returned the iPad. She will only do so if she is convinced that the company is honest in its approach to the topic and takes anti-corruption seriously - both on paper and in practice.

About the author

Christine Jøker Lohmann

Christine Jøker Lohmann is Chief Advisor at the Confederation of Danish Industry. Here she provides Danish companies with advisory concerning CSR trends, laws and practices in the framework of EU, UN, ILO and OECD guidelines. In addition, Ms. Lohmann conducts CSR training on topics such as human rights, anti-corruption and whistleblowing policies, and have worked with the Cambodian Government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, private businesses in Kenya, Russia, Philippines and Egypt as well as Danish companies. Currently, Ms. Lohmann is member of several anti-bribery and corruption committees and boards such as Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD Task Force, International Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope and IOE.