Cleaner business

OECD Observer

Click to enlarge.

Extortion, bribery, kickbacks, political handouts – a lot is said about fighting corruption, but how is it being fought? The Annual Report on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises 2003: Enhancing the Role of Business in the Fight Against Corruption has some answers.

The 2003 report on OECD’s renowned Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, released in November, updates progress made in promoting appropriate business conduct among big business. While observance of the Guidelines, which were released in 2000, is voluntary for companies, adhering governments are committed to promoting them. This annual report, the third in a series, describes what governments have done to live up to this commitment. In particular, it gives a valuable progress report on the business sector’s participation in the fight against corruption.

One way to measure this participation is to look at what enterprises are saying to their employees and to the public. How do big enterprises promote integrity inside and out of the office? The report examines public statements on corruption published on 100 large multinational enterprises’ websites, pointing out differences in sector; in kinds of anti-corruption commitments, whether private-to-private corruption or bribery of public officials; what management tools are used; and whether companies report publicly on how they honour or implement these commitments.

The shortcoming of this approach, of course, is that information provided to the public does not necessarily reflect practices in the field, yet the annual report states that publicly available material does shed light on the importance a company attaches to the issue. Furthermore, the difficulty of framing anti-corruption commitments lies mainly in identifying and describing the transactions to be proscribed. While the connotation of the words “bribery and corruption” includes the general idea of unethical transfer of resources, the challenge of developing an operational definition of corruption takes companies and workers into grey areas, where the boundaries between right and wrong are not clearly drawn.

The report found that, of the 43 enterprises that do publish anti-corruption material on their websites, 32% prohibit offering and/or giving bribes, while 33% prohibit attempts at solicitation and/or receiving bribes. Furthermore, public statements vary widely in their vocabulary and language. For example, the words used to describe resources that might be transferred in the course of a corrupt transaction included terms like donation, gratuity, service, discount, kickback or incentive, whereas when describing acceptable payments or benefits, words such as appropriate, legitimate, reasonable, business-related and courtesy were often used.

Take “facilitation payments”, for example. Are they a form of bribery or an acceptable – and sometimes only – way to get the job done? Ten of the 100 companies discuss facilitation payments, yet there are divergences of view about whether company policy should tolerate them. Some firms prohibit them entirely while others set forth transparency mechanisms, requiring that facilitation payments be properly authorised and recorded.

Over a fourth of the enterprises in the study cite challenges from cultural and local customs, and what might be called “endemic bribery”, and many set out a company stance on accepting gifts or entertainment. A focus on appearance hints at the role of public opinion and social pressure in determining companies’ assessments of what defines acceptable conduct. As cited on the website of a petroleum company, “Local customs, traditions and mores differ from place to place, and this must be recognised. But honesty is not subject to criticism in any culture.”

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from 38 adhering countries, and are posted online at www.oecd.org, under Corporate Governance. The 2003 report can be purchased at www.oecd.org/bookshop.

©OECD Observer No 240/241, December 2003




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017