Over the last years, there have been several cases around the globe concerning corruption, from Siemens and BAe to the more recent VimpleCom and Yara. It can be easy to think that this is a new problem, but it is not.
Corruption has been around for centuries. Some argue that early modern societies had an integrated corruption into the society, mainly because there was no separation between public and private interests. Hence the use of public office for private and family benefit was commonly accepted. Only after approximately the 19th century, when the formal separation of these spheres was starting to be established, was it possible to curb these forms of corruption with specific laws.
Some of the first documentation of corruption dates back to the 17th century in the Dutch Republic. Local governors accused of corruption and of harming the common good for favoring their own family when providing them abundantly with offices or money collected to maintain city services. This means that there was an understanding of corruption, anti-corruption and good governance in the early modern era.
In the last decades, one of the most known legislations, the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, marks an important (re-) start of the fight against corruption. However, the change of how to conduct business was slow in the beginning.
For instance, Norwegian firms still got tax deductions for bribing foreign officials until 1995. First, in 1999 it became illegal. In Europe, a Parliamentary Financial Commission in Bonn presented a comparative study on legal corruption in industrialized OECD countries in 1994. They reported that in most industrial countries, foreign corruption was legal, ranging from simple legalization, through governmental subsidization (tax deduction).
The anti corruption regime in the Norwegian penal system came in 2003 with the ratification of the Council of Europe convention (CETS No.173) from 1999 and its Additional Protocol (CETS No. 191) from 2003. Also, the Norwegian Penal Legislation goes further on penalizing corruption then requested in the convention.
From the beginning of 2000, the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (ØKOKRIM), established in 1989, can show for several cases were people and companies have been convicted.
So it is safe to say that corruptive behavior takes time to mitigate, even if it is a considerable time since the legislation came in place in different nations. The way to do business is like a cultural iceberg. It takes much effort and a long time to change.
One of the key drivers to push this cultural iceberg is the increased size of the fines issued. As an example, BNP Paribas agreed on a settlement of 8,9 billion USD with Department of Justice in the US in 2014. Another driver in the fight against corruption is the global use of jurisdiction, especially for companies and persons, which may be affiliated with US or UK legislations (FCPA and the UK Bribery Act). Companies will not only have to handle domestic legislation, but also international law.
Therefore, businesses are faced with a marketplace where regulators push out even more and stricter requirements alongside with other stakeholders, which anticipate an even stricter conduct and behavior. As such, corporate leadership has several incentives to focus on good compliance policies and systems in order to prevent corruption.
History will probably show that the fight against corruption was a success, but it took a long time, and that several tools were needed in order to handle all requirements ‘and expectations. So, “The technology is here, so why not use it?”