says Guro Slettemark, Secretary General of Transparency International - Norway. She continues: "My impression is that many managers are not fully aware of the influence they can actually exercise.One aspect of this is being able to share experiences with others. Even bad experiences are useful. Turn the negative into something positive! I don’t think that toning down or hiding difficult cases provides any benefit for management or for the company. It would give a signal that this was only an unpleasant occurrence that did not affect the company or lead to change.”
“I’d like to challenge Hydro to become more active in working to eliminate facilitation payments. By being clear that they will reject categorically the demand of such payments, they will discourage new demands in the future – and the problem can be reduced over time,” says Slettemark.
She would also like to see the company help its business associates to establish and incorporate their own ethical rules and anti-corruption programs.
“A large industrial company can influence all of its business relations in this way. One is naturally better positioned with suppliers, but the other partners are important, too. A driving factor for companies could be the fact they can be considered party to their partners’ corruption, whether in joint ventures or projects where several investors are involved. Our point of view is that the Foreign Corruption Practices Act has not received enough attention either. This is being applied in very many business cases.”
Many lagging behind
TI Norway surveyed Norway’s 25 largest publicly listed companies in 2009, and the organization found that, in general, the value bases of the companies, in addition to their ethical regulations and anti-corruption programs, were fairly well hidden from the public. If this is representative, then:
• Anti-corruption behavior is not included in the value base of some companies
• Only half of the companies present their ethical rules on their internet pages
• Less than half of the companies present information that they have programs, or elements of such programs, that are designed to fight corruption
“We hope the survey leads the companies that do not have relevant and preventive anti-corruption actions to develop and implement such programs – and then that they make public the information,” says Slettemark.
She says that a key point toward ensuring healthy business operations in all collaboration is to present one’s ethical principles early and clearly, such that it is not perceived as suspicion against the partner. “It is almost always more difficult later in a relationship to raise questions and make demands on potential partners,” she says.
Corruption and fighting corruption is more than just business relationships. Isn’t the interplay with the outside world just as important?
Responsibility for a vibrant local community
“Yes, it is very important. This is why we challenge businesses to act according to a global perspective in terms of social responsibility. Good ethics must be practiced on all levels. It is valuable to be able to support the community and local anti-corruption efforts. An industrial company like Hydro can, for example, ask for contact with Transparency International departments in other countries and encourage that such be established. I also believe it is meaningful to try to involve ‘ones who matter,’ like local NGOs, when they’re available, to help evaluate projects. Transparency can play a coordinating role in this. And in this way, Hydro can help shape a vibrant local community in the countries where it has operations or is planning new activity.”
In right direction
TI Norway’s Secretary General stresses that the premises for fighting corruption – nationally and internationally – have improved considerably over the last decade, partly because organizations like the World Bank and OECD are backing the efforts more actively than before. Individual companies are stating explicitly that they will not do business with others who use bribery and corruption as business methods.
“We have the strong impression that Hydro has good in-house competence in anti-corruption work, so our most important role will probably be as a sparring partner for them. Anti-corruption work must be done every day, in every company. New employees will not have the history or closeness to the challenges that emerge before them. In my opinion, Hydro is in position to help raise the level of the anti-corruption efforts in Norway – and the awareness of them,” says Slettemark.
She points out that the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) could be suitable for this work. The EITI is a voluntary cooperation to promote transparency of payments and revenues between extractive industry companies and host governments. “Hydro is already working actively toward the implementation of EITI. It’s important that the company maintains and even strengthens its engagement,” says Slettemark.
Transparency International was founded in 1993 by a group of people who shared the same vision as the organization’s first chairman, Peter Eigen. At that time, it was allowed in virtually every country in the world to pay off public servants in other countries. Changing this was the first target set by TI’s founders. Not many years ago, corruption was taken for granted as a general way of doing business in foreign countries. Up until 1995, Norwegian companies could receive tax deductions for expenditures used on bribery outside the country. In 1999, the bribery of foreign officials became a punishable offense in Norway. Globally, Transparency International has distinguished itself through information and aggressive initiatives. The demand for openness and responsibility is climbing higher on the political agenda.
TI Norway has issued the handbook “Protect your business!” The handbook is a part of TI Norway’s effort in the fight against corruption, by helping Norwegian companies to help themselves in avoiding and counteracting it. TI Norway will continue to be of assistance to Norwegian companies in this regard.