If you are involved in the purchasing industry then you see a lot of money change hands. It could be small amounts or even millions of dollars. Relationships develop and contracts are awarded. In many cases, companies are more than willing to go above and beyond to gain your business. It’s a common business practice to show your dedication to the project and willingness to take care of your customer. They may also just want to show you thanks for the business. Or so it would seem. When does a gesture, gift, or payment cross from a necessary business-expense to generate good-will into the darker area of bribery?
What about the business philosophy to wine & dine your customers? In some industries that is the name of the game. For example, let’s go outside the traditional purchasing industry and look at meeting planners. Meeting planners can bring hundreds or even thousands of people to a city. The revenue generated through hotel, food, and recreation is an essential part of that city’s budget. The local Convention & Visitor’s Bureau or the facility manager will often go to great lengths to get that business for their city. They may pay for the meeting planner’s airfare, hotel, food, and even some entertainment to make a great impression and show what a great choice their city or venue would be for the meeting.
Or consider high-level negotiations between two businesses working on a deal to sell a company, merge companies, or simply to find a mutually agreeable position that would allow both companies to profit. Do you picture limo rides from the airport? Golf at the area’s nicest resort? Maybe tickets to a concert or ball game in town that week? The lengths people go to woo another in pursuit of their own success can be astounding. But again, where does it cross from Good-Will to Bribery?
Things get really sticky when working overseas. Bribery has become a huge part of the international scene. Bribing individuals or companies to win deals or slide through local regulations has almost become the norm in some parts of the world. In order to do business in these areas, some may argue that you have to use bribery or your company will be rejected. So now you find yourself in a moral quandary. You take little baby steps and justify your actions because everyone is doing it or because your company would have zero chance at success without it, or so you think.
The Anti-Bribery Convention was adopted in 1997, but is only actively enforced in seven countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and US. Criminal prosecution does happen and can devastate a company. So it is important for each company to set the tone from the top levels of management that bribery will not be tolerated in any form. The rules must apply in every situation and in all countries across the world. Purchasing departments who often interact with companies on a daily basis can help by ensuring they do their part in upholding a high ethical level in all their relationships.
So what do you think? In countries where government corruption is rampant, should business be exempt from bribery laws in order to swim with the sharks?