Yesterday we had a debate about corruption. Of course everybody was against it, particularly in Third World countries where it undermines economic progress and social and political institutions.
But when it comes to business some people weren’t so sure.
Corruption is often hidden in the form of fees or taxes or commissions. And if these are needed to help get the business instead of your competitor, then a little flexibility is needed.
Fortunately I was faced with this very early in my business career. I told their Lordships a little cautionary tale. Corruption debate Hansard. My company developed some new technology in the textile industry and the way it could used in many countries was through licensing. On one occasion I had to convince an official to give us a permit. In his bookcase were copes of Dickens, Shakespeare, the Oxford English Dictionary and so I complimented him on his his interest in English literature. He looked at me and handed me a copy of Dombey and Son. I opened it up and inside was a cut out which exactly fitted American dollar bills.
As I said in the debate, I am not sure whether it was my distaste for corruption, my uncertainty about the law, my concern for our reputation or my love of books, but this deal never did go through.
However, we did sell that technology in 23 other countries and later several people told me that they bought our license instead of others exactly because we did not pay bribes. This gave them more confidence that our technology would work.
It was the cash flow from these licenses that helped the early business grow. It also convinced me that a strong ethical culture is good for a business.
This is why we should stop watering down the Bribery Act and bring it into force now.