The 1997 Anti-Bribery Convention captured worldwide attention as the first global instrument to fight corruption in cross-border business deals. Since its ratification by all 30 OECD countries and six non-members, it has made some real headway in the fight against corruption, with visible evidence that national governments and businesses have tightened up their own legislation and standards.
Today, in the 36 countries that have enacted anti-bribery laws based on the OECD Convention, bribing a foreign public official is a crime. In other words, a bribe by one of their multinationals to a public official in a developing country for a public works contract is a punishable offence. Indeed, it is in this targeting of the supply side of foreign bribery that the OECD Convention stands apart from other multilateral antibribery instruments.
The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention goes beyond ensuring that Parties outlaw foreign bribery. It ensures effective enforcement through systematic monitoring. OECD governments have mandated a special working group of experts to follow up on countries’ efforts to implement the Convention’s standards and monitor compliance. It meets five times a year at the OECD headquarters in Paris. The monitoring process is divided into two rigorous examination phases. Phase 1 involves a comprehensive assessment of the conformity of the country’s anti-bribery laws with the OECD Convention. Phase 2 involves several days of intensive meetings in the examined country with key players from government, business, trade unions and civil society to build a clear picture of how effective that country’s anti-foreign bribery laws are in practice.
As of start 2005, Phase 1 was all but complete, with one remaining country to be examined. Fifteen countries, including the G7, have completed Phase 2, with the remainder to be completed by 2007.
The Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports are made publicly available on the OECD’s Internet site at www.oecd.org/bribery.
The Recommendations of the Working Group on Bribery as well as the country reports are a powerful impetus for change. Several countries have amended their legislation following the Recommendations of the Working Group (e.g. Iceland, Japan, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Bulgaria and Switzerland). This is evidence that the OECD Convention works.
The fight against corruption is not just about formal review, and public consultation and dialogue is vital to its success. The latest such event, the Global Forum on Governance: Fighting Corruption and Promoting Integrity in Public Procurement, which was jointly sponsored with the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry, took place at the end of November (see website).
The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention has laid the foundation for the global fight against foreign bribery, and it provides the framework for a united stand against corruption by the international community. The Convention is not just about morals and ethics in clean business practices. By promoting high standards, the Convention has contributed to levelling the competitive playing field for companies dealing across borders. This is an important achievement, which will be built on as more strategically important countries join the Convention and as the OECD work programme reaches out to more countries around the world.
Yes, the OECD convention against bribery works. Corruption might never fully go away, but it can be pushed back, and certainly no longer condoned as some kind of inevitable side-effect of globalisation.
Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention reports
OECD (2000), No Longer Business as Usual: Fighting Bribery and Corruption, Paris, October, ISBN 9264176608.
©OECD Observer No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005