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Tackling corruption – now a truly global initiative?

There continues to be a global drive towards greater transparency and accountability in business. There are a number of factors at play here.

In certain markets, there appears to be an increasing unwillingness on the part of the authorities to risk being perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being "soft" on corruption.

For national governments, a policy of greater transparency and less tolerance of corruption can make commercial and financial sense for the national economy.

If international businesses and the financial markets consider that a country has a high risk of corruption, they will be less willing to invest significant amounts in that country or enter into major projects.

Although a crackdown on corruption often involves significant cost and cultural upheaval, many governments are now recognising that this nettle needs to be grasped if their country is to benefit from the increasing globalisation of business and inward investment into emerging economies.

Regional developments in this context include the following:

In recent years, authorities in Brazil significantly increased investigations and enforcement actions against corporates. Prosecutors have launched a host of investigations, including in relation to alleged bribes paid to individuals connected with Petrobras, the majority state owned oil company. These investigations now include members of the business and political elite, including the current President of Brazil, Ms Rousseff, who is facing calls for her impeachment.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of efforts to tackle corruption at an institutional level is in the central Hubei province of China. To emphasise the risks of bribe-taking, it is reported that authorities there adopted a "scared straight" approach to staff training, with civil servants being sent on prison visits to observe the plight of incarcerated former colleagues convicted of bribery offences.

India is gradually strengthening its anti-corruption legal framework, in particular through the Companies Act, which came into force in April 2014.

In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to tackle corruption on coming to power earlier this year. Last month, the Financial Times (FT) reported on a "landmark" reform whereby all federal revenue generating institutions must now pay their revenues into a single Treasury account, rather than into private, untraceable accounts.

International anti-corruption laws also appear to be playing a part in this drive. The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions 1999 and the UN Convention against Corruption 2003 underline the concern about these issues at the international level. More recently, certain national bribery laws (eg the UK's Bribery Act) have also included an extra territorial dimension, thereby influencing behaviours of corporates in their global business practices.

Among many institutions there is a greater awareness of the potential "home turf" difficulties for corporates in respect of their overseas activities. Regulators and courts appear increasingly willing to assert jurisdiction over the global operations of organisations headquartered or based locally. U.S. regulators in particular often adopt an aggressive approach to jurisdictional reach when investigating conduct overseas of U.S. based corporates, or when demanding the production of documents (and witnesses) located overseas.

All of these factors have led to a situation whereby transparency and anti-corruption form an increasingly central pillar in the working practices of corporates and financial institutions around the world. Many more now have robust whistleblowing procedures and more regular and rigorous training than previously.

However, notwithstanding these global initiatives (or perhaps because of them), corruption is set to remain an area of high risk for corporates and financial institutions operating globally.

Legal and Regulatory Risk Note
United Kingdom