Some large multinational companies are adopting a policy of “just say no” to the temptation to pay bribes to further their business purposes.
Forty-seven companies, in fact, have signed a “zero tolerance” pact against paying bribes being sponsored by a number of groups working with the World Economic Forum, according to the Wall Street Journal. The signers include the chief executives of London-based Rio Tinto PLC and of Newmont Mining Corp. and Bechtel Group Inc, which are based in Denver and San Francisco, respectively. (Newmont has been the subject of a criminal investigation in Peru for possible bribery and an environmental case in Indonesia involving influence-peddling allegations, according to the Journal.)
“The momentum is building,” Fluor Corp. chief executive Alan Boeckmann, an organizer of the project, reportedly said. Organizers are concentrating on the construction, energy, and metals and mining industries because they frequently operate in the developing world and have some of the biggest corruption problems, the paper noted.
Further, the world’s five largest oil companies are reportedly under pressure to sign the pledge before its announcement, which is slated for today. The companies are Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Total, BP PLC, ChevronTexaco, and ExxonMobil.
Spokespeople for each of the companies said that Shell and Total were pondering the notion of signing although they already had their own zero-tolerance policies and that BP refused to sign for that reason, according to the Journal. A ChevronTexaco spokesperson reportedly noted that while U.S. law bars companies here from engaging in bribery, the document is “the kind of thing that we would like to support.” An Exxon Mobil representative said that signing the document would be “redundant,” because it already has a zero-tolerance policy against bribery and because bribery is against U.S. law, according to the newspaper.
Late last year, reports surfaced that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating at least three major, multinational companies–Bristol-Myers, Lucent Technologies, and DaimlerChrysler–for allegedly bribing foreign officials.
The bribery pledge is backed by Transparency International of Berlin, which monitors and ranks perceived corruption in many countries, and the Basel Institute of Governance, according to the report. “It is step one of an implementation program which is meaningful,” said Jermyn Brooks of Transparency International, according to the newspaper. Under such a plan, companies would next agree to being monitored and disclosing the results, he said.
While signers reportedly support the agreement because it’s a good public relations move, it would invite later scrutiny aimed at finding out whether companies are living up to the agreement. “Any time you take on a voluntary effort like this, you open yourself up to push-back by people who may not believe you are living up to it,” said Newmont CEO Wayne Murdy, according to the newspaper.
Under the agreement, companies sign on to group of principles that aim “to prohibit bribery in any form,” the Journal reported. Signatories are asked to set up elaborate internal programs to teach and monitor company executives and business partners. The principles also bar political contributions and charity paid to gain influence.