Combating Corruption debated at the House of Lords

It is surely a sign of the times and confirmation of just how tarnished the reputation of UK plc is in danger of becoming, that businesses have welcomed the draft Bribery Bill with such enthusiasm.  At GoodCorporation’s debate at the House of Lords on Tuesday (March 31), representatives from some of the UK’s leading companies urged Parliament to fast track the draft bill and get it on the statute books as quickly as possible.

To achieve this and to strengthen Britain’s drive to combat corruption, greater co-operation between business, politicians and the police was called for.  Sharing information, facilitating whistleblowing and encouraging collective action were all identified as key components that make up the road map to combat corruption.

Yet despite this united front on the need to tackle corruption, the debate was evenly split on the question of whether or not corruption was likely to get better or worse in the near future.  The pessimists felt that there was a real risk of corruption getting worse, as businesses struggle to beat the recession. Compliance and monitoring can be costly.  And with increased competition from countries such as India and China businesses are likely to be forced to cut costs in order to survive.

For the optimists, it was felt that the legislation would drive improvements and that the spectre of reputational damage would urge companies to do all that they could to combat corruption. For them, compliance should be on a par with the external financial audit.

Ultimately, it comes down to good leadership.  Business needs to create a culture of incorruptibility.  Tata’s ability to do this in India shows it can be done.  But to be really effective, this needs to be done collectively rather than on a business by business or even a sector by sector front. The draft legislation is a step in the right direction.  Ensuring that businesses work together with the police and the public sector is the next big challenge.

GoodCorporation Business Ethics Debate: March 2009