In a series of blog posts curated by the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), a number of leading voices will present their perspectives on anti-corruption in the run-up to World Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December. In the following post, Peter Solmssen, Chair of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Anti-Corruption and a member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, shares a perspective from a global business.
Siemens does business in over 190 countries and has over 400,000 employees. We are asked about this all the time: how can you do business in countries that are swamped in corruption? The answer is that we do, very successfully, and others can and should. You “just say no”.
We didn’t invent this. Other great companies have been focused on clean or compliant business practices for decades or longer. Some of them are our competitors. For a while, we didn’t get it and in 2006 we were raided by the German police and had to turn things around. There were sceptics who thought we would be at a disadvantage because “everybody does it”. You have to pay bribes in some countries, we were told. But after we imposed strict controls and made it clear to all our employees that we would rather walk away from business than pay bribes – the right thing happened. Revenues, market share, margins – all the things that were supposed to drop – went up! We are learning that being a clean company, a good corporate citizen, even in countries where corruption is widespread, is a good business model.
Through the Siemens Integrity Initiative, we are developing projects to support greater transparency and fostering collective action in some of the more opaque markets on the globe. We urge other companies to join in these efforts to work locally to create a stronger model for business-to-business and business-to-government contracting and procurement.
Of course, addressing the actual root causes of corruption requires not only a strong business stance against it but also strong engagement with governments and civil society to create the right incentives to encourage a level playing field, uphold the enforcement of laws and regulations, and build capacity across complex webs of suppliers and subsidiaries. As important as the Siemens “zero tolerance” policy is, we know we can’t do it alone. This is why we urge other industry leaders to join the cause.
Through the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Anti-Corruption, a group of leading experts on combating corruption are crafting ideas and initiatives that bring in the strengths of a true multistakeholder community to bring about real change. We recently met at the annual Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai, where we were encouraged to see how anti-corruption is now part of the agenda of many other Councils such as on Competitiveness, the Rule of Law and India.
So, our message is: not only is this worth doing but it can be done, if companies do what they should do in the first place. Obey the law, be good citizens, and the rest will take care of itself.
Author: Peter Solmssen in the Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Anti-Corruption and a member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG.
Image: Picture of a man walking across a zebra crossing REUTERS/STRINGER Japan