What are the biggest obstacles to preventing bribery?

Sep. 20 2019 - 4 min

Bribery is one of the most common and pernicious forms of business corruption, presenting a range of major risks to organizations. Both companies and individuals can face severe legal repercussions and financial penalties for violating anti-bribery laws. Moreover, a history of corruption can irreparably damage a business’ reputation, driving away investors, partners, clients and future employees.

Battling bribery in the courts of law

A recent wave of legislation has seen many countries imposing harsher sentences and hefty financial penalties for bribery. New laws hold companies and individuals accountable for both active and passive bribery, while managers can be prosecuted for bribery by workers under their purview, whether or not they are aware of their actions. Many countries’ laws now have extra-territorial reach and apply to acts of bribery committed by employees operating abroad or in an external capacity.

Creating a culture that prevents corruption

Legal deterrents alone cannot end corruption; a holistic approach is needed to enforce change within an organization. One of the strongest safeguards against bribery is a company culture based on integrity. When embedding your core values across countries, offices, subsidiaries and partners, you need to think about protecting your company and changing its culture on several levels.    

Keeping your staff informed

It is crucial that employees from top to bottom have a thorough understanding of your anti-bribery policies and the important role they and others will play in enforcing it. Staff need to be able to recognize bribery, and know how and to whom to report concerns and suspected acts of bribery. Furthermore, when employees do blow the whistle and name offenders, they need to feel safe in the knowledge that they will be protected from any repercussions.

Having managers and executives take charge

According to the OECD, more than 50% of CEOs are aware of bribery within their organizations1. While top level executives may have turned a blind eye in the past, tough new legislation means that high-level executives are now criminally or monetarily liable for bribery committed at any level of their organization. Management can protect themselves and show leadership by fostering a top-down culture of integrity, setting an ethical tone for the whole company. By communicating regularly about anti-bribery policies and actions, companies can define their moral identity and send a clear message of zero tolerance for corruption to all stakeholders.

Controlling third parties

To demonstrate a genuine commitment to change, your anti-corruption strategy should not be limited to a single office. For anti-bribery policies to have real weight, they should cover those external parties, subsidiaries, joint ventures and suppliers considered more than low risk. You must ensure your procedures are clear and enforced throughout the supply and distribution chain.

This is particularly true for large, multi-national corporations. The extra-territorial reach of much anti-bribery legislation means that the CEO of a company headquartered in one country may still be liable for the actions of a subsidiary on the other side of the world.

Ethical leadership with an Anti-Bribery Management System

ISO 37001 is an Anti-Bribery Management System (ABMS) designed to help organizations combat the risk of bribery throughout their global value chains. It provides a framework for companies to create, implement and improve anti-bribery policies and procedures. An internationally recognized standard, ISO 37001’s holistic, flexible approach accounts for all types of third parties, wherever they are located.

ISO 37001 details a series of requirements for organizations to follow in the event of non-conformities with company policy. The standard’s clear and comprehensive methodology for developing corrective actions enables companies to enhance the effectiveness of their anti-bribery system as a whole. Total eradication of all corruption is a tall order for any organization, but by implementing and certifying to ISO 37001, companies can improve controls, limit corruption, and mitigate the risk of legal and financial liability.

The benefits of ISO 37001 training, auditing and certification

Bureau Veritas supports organizations looking to manage bribery risks, comply with legal obligations and enhance their reputations by offering training, auditing and certification to ISO 37001. We offer both classroom-based training and online courses, depending on the needs of your organization. Our programs aim to familiarize your staff with the impacts and risks of bribery in its different forms, while introducing the fundamental principles of an ABMS and its place in managing risks.

In business, honesty is the best policy

The goal of anti-bribery legislation is to create a more transparent and fair business environment. By changing your company culture to prioritize integrity and taking a comprehensive approach to anti-bribery measures, you can accomplish more than avoiding fines. You gain stakeholder trust, improve your reputation, separate yourself from the competition and fundamentally improve business operations.

The OECD Foreign Bribery Report, 2014; Based on a study of 427 corporations.