Laurence Cockcroft, one of the world’s leading campaigners against grand-scale corruption and co-founder of Transparency International, spoke on the theme of his new book Unmasked: corruption in the West, in the London centre of Initiatives of Change (IofC) on 4 April.
‘Corruption in the West is a corruption of influence in which institutions are captured by people and interest groups for illicit gains and their own organizations’ benefit,’ he said at a talk under the theme of Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy. He highlighted nine areas of the global economy suffering from corruption, covered by him and his co-author Anne-Christine Wegener in the book: political party financing, lobbying, multinational corporations, the banking sector, tax havens, the justice system, organized crime and sport. The book highlights the point that the incidence of corruption in each of these sectors, and the consequent lack of public trust in government and public institutions, has fuelled the rise of populist politics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Malini Mehra, Chief Executive of the International Secretariat of Globe International, the world’s largest parliamentary network addressing sustainable development and climate change, spoke alongside Cockcroft. She shared her personal context. Originally from India, where she was brought up in a culture inured to bribery and corruption, Mehra saw first-hand how people shifted their behaviour depending on the context when her family moved from India to the UK. Practices such as routine paying of bribes, withholding of payments or haggling for prices—common in India—were not acceptable in the UK and people adjusted to new norms. ‘You could do that in India but not in the UK.’ Observing this change as a young child, she emphasized the importance of behavioural norms of zero-tolerance of corruption and the significance of trust: ‘Where you have a high-trust society, government is empowered and can act. In a low-trust society, government has less capacity to act. ’ She used rates of income tax payment as an example to illustrate this. Mehra also expressed the importance of instilling good ethics in children so that they grow up with good behaviour.
Chairing the event, Michael Smith, Head of Business Programmes at IofC UK, called for participants to ‘pause for thought’—a time of silence in which he asked the audience to reflect on the questions: what struck you most as an individual? What are your main takeaways? What would you like to ask the two experts? What triggers real change in the fight against corruption? He quoted St Paul of Tarsus who had said, ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.’
The question and answer period created a buzz in the room. Questions included: where and with whom does change begin? Is being corrupt rational? Do we need money for government enforcement of legislation? Is corruption driven by money or power, or both?
Examples from China, Romania, Switzerland, the USA and the UK were discussed, while scandals in multinational corporations included Wal-Mart, Siemens, HSBC, Volkswagen and Olympus. This also created a lively conversation around the moral obligation of civil society in the face of corruption and mistrust.
On the question of the triggers for reform, Cockcroft described the role of reaction to crisis, putting the USA’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in this context following the Watergate scandal, the ‘maxi trial’ of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily in 1984 as a reaction to the increasing power of the mafia in Italian politics, and the activities of the UK’s ‘Bribery Prevention League’ founded in 1906 to deal with a growing problem of inter-company bribery.
Dr Katalin Illes (pictured left), Acting Head of the Leadership and Professional Development Department in Westminster Business School at the University of Westminster, responded to a question from Smith who asked, ‘What is the role of business schools in teaching ethics to an upcoming generation?’ She replied that there was a need to take collective responsibility for financial crises and other crimes. Business schools could not make a large impact ‘unless we radically transform what we teach and how we give opportunities to those who enter into business and management education. We need to look at leadership as a responsibility to improve the well-being of society and business schools should give candidates opportunities to form morally sound characters,’ she said.
Cockcroft concluded: ‘The last 25 years have seen real progress on the corruption issue, which is now in jeopardy as the new US Administration begins to dismantle domestic and international bulwarks against corruption.’ This placed the growing movement against corruption in the developing world in jeopardy. He encouraged civil society and politicians to keep up the pressure on this issue on both the domestic and international front.
Highlighting global trends reported by the annual Edelman Trust Barometer and the OECD, Mehra added: ‘We can live by example; we must move beyond tolerance and acceptance to enforcement of legislation, to make corruption venal in the public mind.’ The need, she said, was to focus on the competence of governments, values, radical transparency, inclusiveness and integrity—key points which all were challenged to reflect on.
Event Photos: Yee Liu Williams
Download review of Unmasked in Financial World magazine Feb-March 2017