By Cameron F. Kerry
Today, December 9, is
International Anti-Corruption Day. It’s an occasion to reflect on the
global fight against corruption.
Bribery and corruption are trade
barriers that impede our ability to rebuild the economy and meet President
Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports. In the past year alone, American
companies are believed to have lost out on deals worth about $25 billion
because they refused to pay bribes.
Companies should be able to
compete for international business on the quality and price of their products
and services, not bribes.
“In too many places, the
culture of the bribe is a brake on development and prosperity, President Obama has said. “It discourages
entrepreneurship, destroys public trust, undermines the rule of law and stifles
The United States has been a
leader in combating transnational bribery since it enacted the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977. It has been leading by example: U.S.
enforcement agencies have filed 105 enforcement actions involving bribery of
foreign officials since the beginning of 2009, and have collected over $2
billion in criminal and civil penalties. In a review of U.S. efforts, the
38-country Working Group on Bribery of the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently applauded U.S. enforcement.
The United States has also been
working to level the playing field internationally. The Convention on
Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business
Transactions now has 38 parties who undergo detailed peer review; the United
Nations Convention Against Corruption has been joined by 148 nations and is
stepping up compliance review; when the G-20 leaders met in Seoul last month,
they endorsed President Obama’s proposal to broaden the G-20 anti-corruption
agenda and adopted a comprehensive Anti-Corruption Action Plan.
What we still
need is the political will to implement and enforce these international anti-corruption
mechanisms on the part of all countries with companies in international
business. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany are taking
steps to improve laws and step up enforcement. Under France’s G-20 Presidency,
we count on that country to set a strong example as well.
Economic powers like China and
Russia are critical to the fight. China, a G-20 member, does not
currently have a law criminalizing bribery of foreign officials in
international business transactions, but ongoing U.S.-China
government-to-government exchanges appear to be making progress. China’s
National People’s Congress has published for comment proposed amendments to its
criminal law that would prohibit foreign bribery in international business and
may take up the bill early next year. G-20 member Russia also has a foreign
bribery law in the works.
Fighting corruption also requires
cooperation between government and civil society. The Working Group on
Bribery recently released Good Practice Guidance to help companies develop
compliance programs for preventing and detecting foreign bribery. The G-20 will
invite industry and civil society to increase voluntary compliance efforts and
innovative public-private partnerships to prevent corruption as part of its
Anti-Corruption Action Plan.
Because of the FCPA, businesses
subject to U.S. jurisdiction have incorporated foreign bribery compliance
programs into their corporate cultures. In fact, companies subject to the FCPA
have said they rely upon it as a useful tool to shield themselves against bribe
solicitations, refusing to pay them because they are illegal not only under
local law, but also back home.
Strong preventive programs enable companies to lead by example and educate
their employees about the importance of fighting corruption. Companies known for their integrity and
quality business practices are also more likely to be highly valued by capital
markets. Compliance enhances
true competitiveness. Governments seeking sustainable growth – as opposed
to kleptocratic ones – prefer doing business with reputable companies that
deliver high-quality products and services without undermining good governance.
We’d like more businesses from
other countries to do the same. The way to level the playing field is not
to lower U.S. standards. Rather, it is to set the bar high against
corruption for all companies no matter where they are from by continuing to
expand the network of trading partners participating in the fight against
No nation or government, no
business or NGO can end corruption in international business transactions
Cameron Kerry is General
Counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce.