A few years back when I heard the word “corruption” it called to mind images of tin pot dictators stuffing billions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts. Now I think of multinational corporations. Here’s why: for every bribe taker there has to be a bribe giver, and in the case of large scale bribery, the bribe giver often represents corporate interests.
The papers this week have been full of allegations that Leighton’s Constructions paid bribes to win large contracts in Iraq, Malaysia and Indonesia. Leighton’s appears to concede corruption did exist – it was the company that alerted authorities it may have beached the law in its dealings with Iraq and staff were sacked after other corruption claims. The question is how high up the corporate ladder knowledge of bribery went.
Leighton’s is not alone. Securency, the Reserve Bank subsidiary responsible for printing plastic bank notes has been caught up in corruption scandals recently, allegedly paying bribes to many countries to win contracts. A few years back German engineering giant, Siemens, was fined $1.4 billion when found guilty of bribery. The prosecutor in the case commented at how disturbed he was that bribery was accepted as normal business practice.
So are these just a few bad apples in a relatively clean corporate sector? I don’t know.It seems that corruption is more common in some industries and some countries than others. A September 2013 report by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Building, for example, found 49% of construction professionals surveyed thought corruption was either extremely common or fairly common in the construction industry in the UK.
What I do know is that for every bribe received there must be someone paying it, and that this frequently implicates big business. Greed, it seems, is universal.