Tackling bribery and corruption

Missing a flight by a matter of minutes is, perhaps, one of the most frustrating aspects of being an international business traveller. After an intense few days with clients or prospects in some far-flung destination, it is natural to feel an overwhelming desire to return home as quickly as possible. But imagine you arrive at the airport to find the check-in queue snaking its way around the terminal building. The prospect of having to stay an extra day would test the sanity of even the most composed traveller.

But, all of a sudden, a potential solution presents itself: an airport official in uniform offers to escort you to the front of the queue in exchange for $100 cash. It’s a simple transaction; and would almost certainly cost less than a new flight and hotel room for the night. What’s the harm?

This type of incident, and others similar, happens everyday to business travellers, particularly in destinations with limited infrastructure. Most people understand the difference between right and wrong: they realise there is a difference between a tip and a bribe. However, there is often enough ambiguity to provide scope for creative decision making in times of stress. Can we blame travellers for surrendering to temptation once in a while?

In the grand scheme of corporate ethics, buying off an airport official to avoid missing a flight may seem relatively insignificant when compared to large-scale White Collar crime. The recent GSK scandal in China is a good case in point: the British drug maker was guilty of funnelling bribes to Chinese politicians and doctors through travel management companies in order to boost sales and jack up the prices of its products across the country. The company was ordered to pay hefty fines and many senior executives were given custodial sentences.

Yet the cumulative effect of low-level corruption cases, whether it’s paying to obtain preferential service or to curry favour with an official, also have a negative social, political and economic impact on the country in which it is taking place. It is important, therefore, that corporations and travel management teams do everything in their power to mitigate exposure to fraud and corruption.

Simple steps to take:

– improve visibility and auditability – account for facilitation payments correctly

– educate travellers and administrators on better accounting – forewarned is forearmed

– eliminate cash payments where possible

– introduce near-miss registers so employees can share experiences

– implement a whistleblowing process

– employ greater screening of employees and sub contractors

– drive policies through the supply chain; seek evidence and right to audit

– profile travellers and focus on those with high risk types (E.G. concentrate on employees dealing with governments in high-risk markets rather than project managers in low-risk markets)

Despite having anti corruption policies, many organisations have not yet implemented anti-bribery and corruption mechanisms into their company culture. Employees, more often than not, receive modest guidance on this issue. But in a globalised economy the need for more effective action is urgent in many instances. Change does not happen over night. For some, corrupt practices are simply the way business in done in certain places. Whilst a zero tolerance policy is completely appropriate for fraud, organisations need to adopt a policy that balances the risk appetite of their company, with the practical realities of traveling in certain high risk destinations.