Bribery and other forms of corruption continue to pose a challenge to international business. Bribery is a problem because it distorts markets, saps economies and hurts local communities. For all these reasons, bribery is illegal just about everywhere that has a functioning legal system. And as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, many countries are stepping up efforts at enforcing anti-bribery laws. Both because of the possibility of prosecution, and because of the slippery slope between bribery and other forms of criminality, bribery poses significant business risks.
Clearly, improved enforcement is an important part of combatting bribery, and combatting corruption more generally. The temptation to win “by any means” will always be there, and so tough rules need to be in place.
But another element is the promulgation and adoption of good, clear, international business standards. As it happens, I’m currently in Madrid as part of the Canadian delegation to an International Standards Organization working committee that is drafting a new Anti-Bribery Management Systems standard (ISO 37001).
Christian Levesque, chair of the Canadian “mirror committee” and head of the Canadian delegation here in Madrid, had the following to say about the project:
“It is important that we, as Canadians, be part of this discussion and this drafting process. We are pleased to see that the matter of anti-bribery is seen by ISO, and by many countries, as an important matter that needs to be addressed at an international level. We need to be vigilant about bribery as a global community, and ISO is the international platform to offer solutions to deal with that challenge.”
The ISO’s working committee is still in early days of its three-year process. When completed, the standard will describe a set of best practices for companies that want or need to establish management systems that will help them avoid, detect and deal appropriately with bribery wherever it is encountered—either in their own operations or potentially in the operations of business partners. And, to the extent that their business partners are compliant with the standard, businesses will have some assurance that those partners have processes in place to ensure the integrity of their own operations, thereby reducing risk. The standard will constitute the core of an eventual ISO certification regime, alongside certification regimes for quality management (ISO 9000), environmental management (ISO 14000), social responsibility (ISO 26000) and many others.
Establishing an ISO standard, of course, doesn’t mean the problem of bribery is going to go away. But it does give global businesses a target to aim at, and it gives companies of all sizes access to a set of best practices, such that if they really want to be diligent about avoiding bribery, they’ve got the tools to put that ambition into practice.