In the first half of 2014, anti-corruption enforcement actions by the U.S. alone cost the business community more than $500 million. It would seem logical that as a result anti-corruption compliance would be at the forefront of every multinational corporation’s activities. But that’s not the case, at least as described in the 2014 Global Fraud Survey, perhaps one of the largest and most credible surveys on the topic, released by Ernst and Young (EY) earlier this summer.
The report indicates that businesses around the world are suffering from what EY has dubbed “compliance fatigue.” After surveying more than 2,700 business executives in 59 countries, EY discovered that “despite the aggressive enforcement environment…the percentage of companies that have anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policies has increased by only 1%.”
According to the survey, the reason for such stagnation rests with chief executives who are reluctant to participate in compliance training programs and take other necessary steps. EY does note that “the majority of businesses have put in place many of the building blocks of effective compliance programs.” However, “one-fifth of respondents say that either their business does not have an ABAC policy or that they do not know if there is a policy” representing a “persistent minority” of firms that have yet to adopt any measures to prevent bribery. Within this minority, the report shows that executives are not only apathetic towards compliance, but “are willing to act unethically to win or retain business.”
Because executive officers face greater exposure to corruption risks, EY posits that the best course of action to alleviate this compliance fatigue is for boards of directors to maintain a high level of pressure on C-suite executives to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions. The survey authors state, “This level of scrutiny will drive a higher level of engagement among senior executives.” This solution, however, hinges on the idea that board members have sufficient knowledge and understanding to provide such oversight. Unfortunately, CIPE’s work in emerging markets around the world have shown that this is not always the case.
Each year on September 15, the UN observes the International Day of Democracy to celebrate efforts to promote and consolidate democracy around the world. Despite these efforts however, the realization of consolidated democracy continues to be a struggle for many reformers. This year, the UN has chosen a theme of “Engaging Young People in Democracy” and acknowledges that “study after study show declining faith among young people…with declining levels of participation.” Compounding this declining faith in democracy is a rising ideological competitor in the form of economically successful authoritarian regimes.
As much as young people are recognized as dreamers and agents of change, these characterizations tend to be the result of youth wanting to see an improvement in their quality of life. In emerging countries such improvements are often delivered through economic growth, and in cases such as China and Singapore youth populations can honestly say their standard of living has gotten better year after year. These examples can lead youth to become disillusioned with democracy, especially at a time when the world’s major democracies are suffering the aftereffects of a major financial crisis. Meanwhile, in the developing world, kickstarting growth in democratic regimes often takes time due to a need to build consensus and develop proper policies.
Quality of life, however, is not measurable only in terms of indicators such as income levels, consumption, and GDP — though almost all of the world’s most prosperous countries are democracies. Other, arguably more important aspects such as human rights, liberty, and freedom are also vital components. Since 2012, CIPE has been part of a consortium seeking to analyze the development paths of three emerging democracies (India, Brazil, and South Africa) in order to create an argument in support of democratic development.
Last week Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering (IPO). As one of the largest companies in the world’s second largest economy, Alibaba represents an enormous opportunity for investors. They are expected to raise between $15 and $20 billion, making this IPO potentially bigger than Facebook’s.
While Alibaba already handles more sales volume than eBay and Amazon combined, there is added room for growth as internet penetration in China is only around 45 percent. Online shopping is projected to increase at a rate of 27 percent per year as the still-poor country grows richer and more connected.
Regardless of the perceived opportunities, foreign investors are not entirely convinced that Alibaba will be a good buy. The attitude toward Chinese companies in general is one of skepticism and uncertainty — perpetuated most recently by concerns about the transparency in auditing practices. Alibaba’s complex network of businesses and a lack of details surrounding partnerships with domestic logistics companies also raise some questions for potential investors.
In all the buzz surrounding Alibaba’a IPO, however, there is a missing element that could be cause for additional concern. By selling shares in the U.S., Alibaba opens itself to more exposure to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a piece of legislation that makes it illegal for companies to bribe officials of foreign governments. A number of multinational companies from around the world have already been ensnared in FCPA investigations as a result of corruption in China and the idea that Alibaba has grown within a market rife with corrupt acts could be cause for increased suspicion. Compounding this risk is the fact that the company has been the subject of investigations by domestic authorities in the past.
“Scientists have discovered an enormous energy source for the world…located in the poorest countries in the world,” announced Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) President John Hamre recently. “If we tap it, this energy source will double or triple GDP growth in those countries.”
The resource Hamre was discussing is not a fossil fuel like coal or oil and is not a new form of renewable energy. His remarks were a reference to the 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24. This youth population is the largest the world has ever seen and their contributions to society have drastic implications for the development of emerging markets and fragile states. If youth become productive civic and economic participants in their communities, the benefits are immense. However, when young people are forced to the fringes of society and do not have sufficient opportunities to participate in society the consequences can be devastating.
In order to help policy, society, and business leaders better understand how to ensure that young people are best positioned to be drivers of growth and development, CSIS recently developed the Global Youth Wellbeing Index in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide.
As my colleague Anna Nadgrodkiewicz recently discussed on this blog, corruption is a preeminent threat to developing countries. In Brazil, corruption has been estimated to cost somewhere around $53 billion (approximately 2.3 percent of GDP) in 2013 alone. Because this loss has a corrosive effect on democratic governance and the country’s ability to deliver continued improvement, Brazilians took to the streets in massive protests. As a result the government of Brazil passed the “Clean Companies Act” which began being enforced on January 29.
The new law, like similar legislation in other countries, establishes corporate liability for corrupt practices committed by Brazilian companies as well as foreign companies that have branches or affiliates within the country. Under the act, companies that bribe public officials (foreign or domestic) can be subjected to civil and administrative sanctions including heavy fines, prohibition on receiving state funds, and even dissolution of the firm. The fact that Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff exercised her line-item veto power to make the law more strict than originally drafted seems to signal to the world that Brazil is serious about reining in corruption.
In the wake of the passage of the Clean Companies Act, much talk erupted over the implications for international trade. Since the law closely resembles existing anti-corruption laws such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act, experts have warned that companies operating in the region can expect Brazilian authorities to cooperate more closely with their counterparts in the US during investigations.
More general discussion has involved the importance of solid compliance programs in multi-national companies (MNCs) if they are to avoid any run-ins with the law. However, such commentary ignores a large audience that should take note of this development: developing countries.
Amid the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the strategy behind international aid. The question is whether to continue with traditional projects that seek to alleviate poverty through the provision of basic human needs such as health care, education, and food security, or to refocus efforts on building the capacity of local governance thereby making developing countries capable of addressing these issues on their own. While this debate has been around for at least two decades, current budgetary constraints in donor countries have brought the conversation back into focus.
Speaking in terms of policy, there has long been consensus on the fact that better governance leads to more vigorous economic growth. Regardless of rhetoric, however, donor agencies have continued to channel the majority of their resources toward areas like infrastructure, agricultural development, and education. This must change if the development community wants to meet its goals.
On a panel at the Center for Strategic International Studies, Executive Director of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) John Sullivan joined three other discussants – including a World Bank VP and U.S. Ambassador – to talk about the nexus between governance and growth. The panelists unanimously agreed that governance, specifically democratic governance, is a crucial element of moving developing countries off of foreign aid. Good governance is an enabler that allows developing countries to better utilize donor funding and develop sustainable, local solutions to challenges.
While delivering the keynote speech at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Chinese president Xi Jinping stated that the government was drafting a “master plan for reform.” Speaking to a group of leaders who invariably have a stake in China’s continued development, Xi touched upon topics including politics, society, and the environment. Given the recent slowdown in growth, Xi’s remarks mainly aimed to assuage the concerns of economic and business leaders regarding the stability of China’s economy.
Some of the most discussed topics that come to mind when thinking about economic reform in the Middle Kingdom include liberalization of interest rates, freer access to capital for small firms, and correcting market distortions such as real estate prices. These factors are admittedly extremely important to rectify if the economy is to avoid stalling out, but there is also another issue on the minds of many business leaders looking to become or stay involved in China’s economy – corruption.