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.