Can Bribery Ever Be Considered a Normal Part of Doing Business?

Contributed by Joe Timmins

Before this statement can be evaluated, we need to first to define bribery in the eyes of the law. The UK’s most recent and revised legislation regarding bribery is the Bribery Act 2010. This law states that a person is guilty of an offence if they promise or give a financial or other advantage to another person to induce or reward a person to perform improperly a relevant function or activity. The Bribery Act 2010 therefore covers nearly every possible aspect of day to day life. It criminalises footballers giving away own goals due to payment from the opposing team to making it illegal for business men to gain an advantage over their competitors through discrete payments during commerce. As the purpose of bribery is to induce a person to perform their job improperly, often breaking their contract and code of conduct, bribery can never be considered a normal part of doing business.

 Bribery is against the principle of transparency in business. It eradicates the openness and communication we expect in the buying and selling of goods and services and does not allow for an equal playing field in doing business. Most significantly, bribery inherently takes away any accountability of the individual(s) committing the offence due to the inconspicuous nature of bribery payments. As both the receiver of a bribe and the person offering it is committing a crime, there is no incentive for either party to reveal any wrongdoing. It is evident that bribery is viewed as socially unacceptable as bribery is always kept out of the public domain. If there was any future for bribery becoming a normal part of doing business, we would see it emerging in our own day to day life’s as it becomes socially acceptable. This is not happening. Business needs government regulation in order to operate efficiently essentially with transparency. Deregulating activity such as bribery in business could create a culture of private firms being above the law. This has the potential to damage business ethics including non compliance of laws protecting employer’s rights.

Bribery can also never be considered a normal part of doing business due to the dangers of a pro bribery attitude spreading into all walks of life. In the same way tipping emerged in the 1700’s, only used as a gratuity to the server of your drink in a bar, tips are now commonly given for a range of services including taxis. A bribery mentality could grow in the same way a tipping mentality has grown. What if a future with bribery considered a normal part of business, led to a need to bribe your child’s teacher into giving them a role in the school nativity? Or a society where bribery was needed in order to get into a cinema? This would create an immoral society, with money as your passport to selfishly gaining an advantage over others in accessing goods and services. Moreover, a culture of bribery would see the loss of the system of meritocracy. Class division would be exacerbated as the wealthy will stay wealthy by making bribes with ease in order to do business while poorer people will enter a vicious cycle of never being able pay a substantial enough bribe to do business.

Business is the practice of making ones living by engaging in trade. The trade price operates by supply and demand and does not account for any extra payments such as bribery. If there is bribery, it is an additional cost that has to be recouped somewhere else in the production process.  This would see customers being charged higher price or suppliers cutting costs. This may be through cutting the numbers of workers, or the use of poor materials and shoddy workmanship. These limitations of bribery make it impractical as a realistic method of doing business.

One of the most recent international companies being investigated for bribery is SWECO (March 28th 2014). The World Bank has debarred SWECO environment for 3 year s following their acknowledgment of misconduct of two senior employees who paid for a trip for the Head of Project management and his family during the amendments of two World Bank financed contracts in return for confidential information. This notable recent case of bribery, and the result of the investigation, provides evidence of how unacceptable bribery is recognised on an international scale.  On an international basis, the common practice of bribery in many countries prevents honest and well governed international trade as these companies are simply unwilling and unable to contemplate offering illegal incentives to conduct basis. This reduces international competitiveness.

“In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law; but ’tis not so above:
There is no shuffling”

– William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Claudius, in Hamlet, act 3, sc. 3, l. 57-61.


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