Bribe demands place tremendous pressure on employees and company compliance controls, testing resolve and exploiting systemic weaknesses. Compliance officers should work to implement proactive policies to deter bribe demands and equip employees with strategies to sidestep improper requests. The most effective techniques are practical, straightforward, and easy to remember. These strategies will make demands less likely and saying “no” less difficult.
Safety in Numbers
Bribes depend upon secrecy and collaboration. The more people present, the more difficult it is to maintain secrecy. Try to have multiple employees present for meetings with government officials, and rotate personnel where feasible. Simple numbers can deter bribe demands at the outset. Where permitted under applicable laws, consider a company policy on audio recording meetings with government officials “for compliance quality purposes.” Remember: the best way to help employees navigate risky encounters is to steer around them altogether.
Keep it Virtual
To the greatest extent possible, use e-government services to avoid face-to-face interaction with public officials. Government services are increasingly available online, and companies should require their use wherever possible. Where such services are not available, companies and industry groups should use their leverage to promote adoption of e-government tools.
Aggressively and publicly promote the company’s zero tolerance policy for bribery, which can prevent bribe demands and build a positive, productive reputation with local government. Companies may also benefit from joining or supporting the growing number of business transparency or anti-corruption groups, building a reputation as a company championing anti-corruption causes. Coaching employees to say “no” to bribes unequivocally and consistently can also bolster the company’s clean image.
Encourage employees to refuse to read between the lines. One effective method is to operationalize “feigned confusion,” forcing the bribe solicitor to make demands explicit or withdraw them. Ask that all suspicious financial requests be made in writing “for review by the compliance or legal team.” Require documentation and receipts for all fees, taxes, charges, or unusual demands. Enforce company-wide policies and accounting practices to prevent payments without documentation and to eliminate the possibility of off-the-books payments.
Additional layers of review, approval, and oversight required for expenses and deals make it more difficult for bribes to go undetected. Ensure that these don’t become needlessly burdensome but, whenever possible, even a second sign-off can improve transparency.
Build Your Network
Develop a wide network of “compliance champions” who understand local customs and promote ethical business. Embed champions into deals and on the ground to highlight the importance of compliance while giving a local avenue to those who want to discuss specific challenges or report wrongdoing.
Incorporate Cultural Perspectives
Consider how local culture and custom impact the dynamics of your business and ensure culture and ethical business are harmonized to the extent possible. Make your gifts and hospitality policies clear, but reasonable, and then enforce them. If gift-giving around the New Year is culturally appropriate, embrace that tradition in explicitly compliant ways. The goal is to monitor and encourage compliance, not drive gift-giving underground.
Publicize Corporate Monitoring
Let employees know there are systems in place that track expenses, invoices, and financial transactions. Similarly, encourage speaking up and peer monitoring, actively advertising channels to report misconduct. If employees know that their behavior is being effectively monitored, they are less likely to engage in illegal transactions.
Support Your Honest Employees
Make sure employees know that the company has their back and will reward ethical conduct. Employees need to be sure that the company will support them if a refused bribe derails a big deal. For compliance to be effective, employees must believe that the incentives for compliance are higher than the benefits of shady short-term profits.
Highlight the Consequences
Emphasize the real-world consequences of complicity in corruption. A bribe is never just an isolated transaction, no matter how insignificant it seems in the moment. We know that government corruption devastates real communities — corruption funds dictators, terrorists, and human traffickers. Help employees see their actions on that continuum.
The techniques above—like all compliance controls—will not avert every bribe demand. Some corrupt actors will endeavor to push through any safeguard to game the system. Employees should be ready for corrupt officials to test them, even after they first refuse bribe demands. They should be braced for and look ahead to a second round. When bribetakers’ stamina is tested, most will look for easier targets.