Corporate Bribe Givers Fight Back
At the National Press Club today, Trace International held a press conference to unveil its new creation - bribeline.org.
Trace is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that specializes in anti-bribery due diligence.
It's members are 130 large multinational corporations and their commercial intermediaries around the world.
Bribeline is an on-line reporting tool.
Anyone can go and report an effort by a government official to solicit a bribe.
There is no place on Bribeline to report that a multinational corporation actually gave a bribe.
And please - no names.
Its not an enforcement tool, says Trace president Alexandra Wrage.
But if people start reporting bribes in say Lebanon, Lebanon will look bad.
And it is Trace's hope that when it reports its findings in a year or so, Lebanon will be shamed into reform.
So - stop asking for so many bribes, Lebanon.
A couple of problems with Bribeline.
There is nothing stopping anyone, anywhere in the world, from going to Bribeline and filing fake reports.
Trace will publicize the findings in a year or so.
So, if you want to make Lebanon look bad in a year or so, go to Bribeline now, and file a fake report.
Nothing stopping you.
Trace will not track you down.
In fact, Wrage says, your IP address will be deleted as soon as you submit the form.
So if reporters or enforcement officials go to Trace to get the information, they will be out of luck.
Go to Bribeline, click on English.
Are you reporting an incident in which a government official or a representative of an international or regional organization requested or suggested that you pay a bribe?
In what country did the incident occur?
Who requested the bribe?
Please specify the entity involved.
Ministry responsible for construction.
If the request for the bribe was recurring (i.e. a bribe was to be provided more than once), approximately how frequently did the request recur in a given year?
Five times or fewer.
Which best describes the primary form of the bribe requested?
Please indicate the primary nature of the requested bribe.
Item of value in exchange for winning new business
Value of the requested bribe?
$100,000 to $500,000.
Congratulations - you have just filed a false report with Bribeline.
And anyone can do this.
Get all of your friends to do this, and when Trace reports its findings, Lebanon looks corrupt.
Now, Trace could have set up a different kind of Bribeline.
They could have set up a system where employees of corporations - whistleblowers - around the world could report bribes paid by their companies.
Trace would guaranteed anonymity.
Trace would refer the case to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
That would have delivered some tangible results - but Trace's corporate members would not have allowed it.
The publicity stunt that we just witnessed at the National Press Club was an attempt by the corporate bribe givers in the West to send a message that - hey, we're doing something about corruption.
Pointing the finger at those corrupt officials overseas who are making illegal demands on these overburdened major multinational corporations?
On the panel was Maura Abeln Smith, general counsel at International Paper.
Smith said that International Paper employees anywhere in the world can call in on internal company help-lines to report bribes. She said the company investigates all of these reports thoroughly.
We asked Smith - As a result of your internal investigations, has the company over the last year reported to the Justice Department any violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
No, we have not, Smith said.
But worry not, dear reporter.
We are in the paper industry, Smith said.
That's not a sexy industry like computer chips.
We are paper - boring paper.
This apparently did not sit well with Frank Vogl of Transparency International, another non-profit set up by big business to "fight" corruption.
Vogl was in the audience, listening to Smith's presentation.
Vogl pointed out that tens of thousands of companies are giving bribes around the world and that the amount of enforcement is tiny compared to the amount of bribery.
"The problems are massive," he said.
And he was dismissive of International Paper's claim that bribery is no big deal in her company or her industry.
"There are huge bribes in the forest products area," Vogl shot back.
Nonetheless, Vogl was supportive of his sister corporate funded anti-bribery organization and the Bribeline initiative.
Wal-Mart does much of its business in China, where public corruption is rampant.
And Wal-Mart, like International Paper, is a key supporter of Bribeline.
Alberto Mora, general counsel for the international department at Wal-Mart was scheduled to be at the briefing, but couldn't make it because his plane was delayed.
But he did issue a statement saying that Bribeline "will further Wal-Mart's efforts to ensure we are allocating the necessary resources to combat corruption in those countries where we do business."
Wait a second.
You don't already know that China is corrupt?
Just today, we read that China put to death the former chief of its equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration.
So, we already know China is corrupt.
No need for Bribeline to tell us.
Even if it could.
Troubled by the mild questioning of the panel, Wrage's husband stood up and tried to make the point that Bribeline should not be seen as public relations tool for corporate bribe givers.
"This is in no way a corporate tool, in the Forbes magazine sense," he said.
Well, actually, yes it is.
© 2007 Corporate Crime Reporter