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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Corner House briefing on Corruption
I have just come across an excellent briefing document on corruption entitled "Exporting Corruption: Privatisation, Multinationals and Bribery ". This document was produced in 2000 by a UK charity, called Corner House, which monitors social and economic issues, policies + practices in the UK and overseas.

Corner House generously allows its material to be reproduced provided due acknowledgement is provided, so I am posting the following and urge you to read the full document and their other briefings + documents which cover a wide range of social and environmental issues extremely well...

Briefing document 19: (corruption):

Corruption takes many different forms, from the routine cases of bribery or petty abuse of power that are said to "grease the wheels" to the amassing of spectacular personal wealth through embezzlement or other dishonest means.

For multinationals, bribery enables companies to gain contracts (particularly for public works and military equipment) or concessions which they would not otherwise have won, or to do so on more favourable terms. Every year, Western businesses pay huge amounts of money in bribes to win friends, influence and contracts. These bribes are conservatively estimated to run to US$80 billion a year -- roughly the amount that the UN believes is needed to eradicate global poverty. In 1999, the US Commerce Department reported that, in the preceding five years, bribery was believed to have been a factor in 294 commercial contracts worth US$145 billion. In 1996, the magazine World Business reported that the bribes paid by German companies alone were over $3 billion.

Corruption has become a major international concern. The topic of international conferences, policy forums and ministerial speeches, it is also the subject of a recent OECD Convention and the focus of an international non-governmental organisation, Transparency International. Corruption is increasingly cited as a reason for withholding foreign aid or debt relief. If a country's inability to pay interest on its loans is due to its leaders siphoning off national earnings into their own bank accounts, the reasoning goes, surely extending aid or cancelling the debt will merely sanction further graft.

Most commentators on corruption -- and on the "good governance" initiatives instigated to combat it -- dwell on developing countries, not industrialised ones. Most scrutinise politically-lax cultures in the South, not the North. Most call attention to the petty corruption of low-paid civil servants, not to the grand corruption of wealthy multinationals. Most focus on symptoms such as missing resources, not causes such as deregulation of state enterprises. Most talk about bribe-takers, not bribe-givers.

This focus needs to be shifted. If corruption is growing throughout the world, it is largely a result of the rapid privatisation (and associated practices of contracting-out and concessions) of public enterprises worldwide. This process has been pushed by Western creditors and governments and carried out in such a way as to allow multinational companies to operate with increased impunity. Thus multinationals, supported by Western governments and their agencies, are engaging in corruption on a vast scale in North and South alike. Donor governments and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund frequently put forward anti-poverty and "good governance" agendas, but their other actions send a different signal about where their priorities lie.

Read more here...