President of Transparency International France
After many years lagging behind in the fight against corruption, France is catching up. The government has passed new legislation, awareness is growing in business circles and public opinion is shifting in the right direction. At the same time, technology is opening new doors and international cooperation is taking shape.
Transparency International’s 2018 report assessing the enforcement of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention ranked France’s efforts on this front “limited”. Such a judgement warrants an explanation. At the time, the recently enacted laws on transparency and corruption were only starting to take effect. But since then, a bank has been handed a record €3.7 billion fine for illegal soliciting and aggravated laundering of tax-fraud proceeds. Two other banks have entered into judicial agreements. France’s mechanisms and tools, in other words, are now meeting the highest international standards. It just has to show that it’s enforcing them.
Digital technology can help or hinder the fight against corruption. On the one hand, it can lead to new risks – cryptocurrencies, for instance, can be used for money laundering. On the other, blockchain and artificial intelligence are opening up promising prospects for tracking and tamper-proofing transactions, and detecting fraudulent operations more efficiently.
Large companies are becoming increasingly aware of the ethical and business rationale for more transparency – partly because they are looking at their role in society from a fresh perspective, partly out of fear of getting caught. One of the trickier points here relates to transactions in places where corruption is common. To deal with this, top management teams need to be seen to take a zero-tolerance stand on corruption, cascade that policy through their branches and geographies, and work with a network of compliance officers to fine-tune their approach to local specifics.
The devil, however, is in the grey areas. The day a company feels it will lose a contract or be barred from doing business in a country unless it resorts to bribery, it must drop out of the bidding process or pull out of the country. That, of course, isn’t an easy decision – especially when others don’t always follow the rules. This is why it’s so important to increase international convergence.
The OECD Convention is a significant step in that direction, and one which more countries should adopt and apply.