The British government has just decided to review the UK Bribery Act weeks before it was due to come into force. There has been much talk of concerted lobbying by British companies who worry that the tough provisions of the new act will make compliance more onerous than other anti-corruption legislation around the world.
We should not be surprised that getting this new law over the starting line is proving tricky.
Nobody disputes the need to combat corruption. The case is overwhelming. Spend any time in developing countries and you will see how corruption distorts markets, restricts growth, reduces opportunities and keeps poor people poor. Naturally rich countries whose prosperity is frustrated by corruption are breeding grounds for organised crime and extremism. Increasingly, civil society is intolerant of the flagrant pilfering of a nation’s wealth by a venal and repressive elite and willing to take to the streets as they have done to dramatic effect recently in Tunisia.
But national legislation for genuinely global companies is hard to get right. When we designed our latest electronic discovery software – which is in large part intended to help companies manage large scale fraud and corruption cases – we were able to build in the functionality that reflects the multi-lingual, multi-jurisdictional nature of modern litigation. Major fraud and corruption cases never sit neatly in a single jurisdiction.
Governments don’t enjoy this same luxury of being able to take a truly global approach. The same unanimity that went into signing the OECD anti-corruption convention is hard to apply when it comes to drafting each piece of national law to cover the global activities of multi-national companies with complex ownership and registration.
Most major companies support anti-corruption legislation – it can make saying no sometimes a lot easier. But good companies, striving to do the right thing are nervous about being inadvertently caught up in a technical violation. Equally, the police and prosecutors do not want to waste their own precious resources scrapping around the edges. They want to tackle major violations head on.
Hopefully, wise heads can figure out a solution that will allow the new act to come into force but in a way that allows for a good degree of common purpose in tackling this pervasive and destructive crime.