Getting from Salbu to the Tipping Point: The Role of Corporate Action within a Portfolio of Anti-Corruption Strategies

Dunfee, Thomas W., Hess, David | January 1, 2001

Salbu’s “big questions” identify core issues for scholars on bribery and corruption. Salbu asks: (1) when may it be ethical to pay a bribe, (2) whether the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s (“FCPA”) provisions on “routine government action” permit us to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate facilitative payments, (3) whether non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) should supplant the role of governments in fighting corruption, and (4) whether corporate principles can have an impact in the fight against corruption. Our focus is primarily on the latter question, but encompasses all of them. Implicit in Salbu’s list is the question of whether a single magic bullet can be identified as a likely solution to the problem of corruption, e.g. whether NGOs should “supplant” governmental action. Instead of phrasing the question in terms of either-or, we would ask: What is the appropriate mix of strategies to most effectively combat corruption? The choice is not choosing between strategies, but finding the right mix of strategies to capitalize on their synergies and most effectively combat corruption from all sides. We argue that a portfolio of strategies will be the most efficient route to conquering corruption. Over time, new strategies may emerge and the relative importance of strategies will shift within an anti-corruption portfolio. Among the current portfolio of strategies, we believe that corporate action, both individually and on a coordinated basis, can have a significant impact on the levels of corruption in international business. In addition, such an approach can provide a way out of the “routine government action” problem Salbu identifies. Within the realm of possible corporate strategies we have proposed a Sullivan-like principles approach which we believe can constitute an important weapon in the overall anti-corruption portfolio. Salbu critiques our approach and we respond. Finally, Salbu’s first question on the ethics of paying bribes raises further questions about the normative foundations of the battle against corruption. We argue that a sufficient normative foundation is essential for success in fighting corruption, and we offer some thoughts on the nature of adequate normative justification.