Corporate Eye

Why Sustainable Businesses Need To Fight Corruption

The crowning of Lewis Hamilton as Formula One’s Youngest World Champion has some parallels for businesses keen to show they’re not corrupt.

I cannot have been the only one thrilled by excitement of last weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton’s crowning as the youngest ever Formula One World Champion.

However, you must feel sorry for Filipe Massa. When he crossed the finish line HE was World Champion. Seconds later, Hamilton passed a suddenly slower Timo Glock, wresting the crown away from Massa by one point.

There have been the inevitable accusations that Glock was bribed to let Hamilton through. This has been a season of dubious decisions and, whether the allegation is true or not, it’s difficult not to wonder if there is some truth in at least some of the whispers.

Transparency International and Dow Jones Unite Against Corruption

Corruption is as much an issue for ordinary businesses as it is for Formula One. While the CSR facet of sustainability is about restoring corporate trust, corruption is all the betrayal of all trust for personal gain.

Thankfully there has been an organisation fighting against corporate corruption for over fifteen years: Transparency International (TI).

TI doesn’t conduct investigations into individual cases, although it will lend assistance in special circumstances. It’s focus is upon advocating transparency in the business arena as the means to stamp out corrupt practices once and for all.

Now it has entered into a two year partnership with Dow Jones, publisher of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. The deal will considerably strengthen the efforts of both organisations to promote transparency and eradicate corruption among the business community.

As part of the deal, Dow Jones will give TI free access to two of its products. The first is Factiva, a news service which amalgamates various sources including the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Dun & Bradstreet and Reuters.

The second is their Watchlist product. This tracks Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs); people from all over the world who could use their current or recent position in public office for private gain. There are nearly half a million PEPs worldwide: many have the same opportunity for corruption, though only a few take it.

Bribery and Corruption In Your Western Country

But what, you may be asking yourself, has all this to do with enlightened Western democracies? Surely there’s no corruption in the UK, EU or USA?

Just over a month ago, the UK was described by TI as “a place where corrupt business is done”. It went on to call upon the Government to “stop procrastinating and address the fundamental weaknesses” in its approach to bribery and corruption.

This criticism was prompted by a stinging assessment of the UK’s anti-corruption framework by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This included four sweeping recommendations and the requirement that the country produce quarterly written reports to the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery.

However, according to TI’s 2008 Corruption Perception Index, the UK is seen as the sixteenth least corrupt country, with the USA ranked eighteenth.

If leading countries such as these are finding it difficult to meet their international obligations then you have to wonder about the businesses they are charged with regulating.

The Suspicion of Corruption

There are persistent rumours in Formula One about backroom deals and bias towards certain teams and drivers. No matter the veracity of these rumours, it’s the perception of a fixed championship which will stick more than any denial.

So it is with business. One or two questionable decisions (such as the UK-Saudi Al Yamamah Defence Programme) can lead to a wholesale collapse in trust and leave many companies unfairly tarnished with the same brush.

It therefore seems sensible to recommend that all businesses should include in their sustainability reporting a statement on transparency, preferably from the Global Reporting Initiative or another internationally accepted standard.

After all, everyone knows that if you’re not transparent you must be hiding something. Or at least, that’s what we all suspect …

Picture Credit: “World Map Index of perception of corruption” from Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.