Even as the Indian government is changing laws to improve transparency in rules, the business world must also name and shame peers who aggressively encourage corruption.

Several domestic and global business leaders recently spoke about their experiences at a workshop and debate on anti-corruption measures in New Delhi organized by the World Economic Forum’s Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), together with Transparency International and the UN Global Compact.

Most participants came up with constructive suggestions to battle corruption, but there was a moment of epiphany when a prominent local business leader said that the event was the first event on anti-corruption measures that he had attended in India. This business leader has been working for close to three decades and is the chairman of a global corporation.

That set me thinking and I realized how true it was. Sure, corruption is mentioned at various meetings and many social and political bodies do not tire of raising issues of corruption. But, it is rare to see corporate captains discussing corruption on an economic platform.

The last couple of years have seen vigorous debates and public action on corruption in India. Most of the anger around corruption has been targeted against government agencies. Big business has been attacked too. But what is missing is a call to action by business leaders to fight corruption. While government bodies remain terribly opaque, ministers maintain huge discretionary powers and officials are inventive in undermining law, business is equally complicit.

Corporate leaders in India are loud in criticizing government corruption. But they are stunningly silent about peer companies who are deeply involved in scams. Business heads often blame government rules and regulations for corruption. This is true. But it is not the sole reason for corruption. It is crony capitalism that is taking corruption to new levels. Proximity to ministers and officials is leveraged by routinely bending rules for corporate gain. Business leaders do not accept publicly that many companies use corrupt practices to stay ahead of competition.

Indian business leaders will have to adopt higher levels of transparency and probity if they want to reduce the hurdles to growth. Civil society will not allow easy access to natural resources unless it trusts industry. Opposition to big business from communities is already a huge hurdle for growth in India. Even as the government is changing laws to improve transparency in rules, the business world must also name and shame peers who aggressively encourage corruption.

Much of this can happen if companies that believe in transparency come together; this could be the tipping point. Many companies have signed up to the PACI effort and pledged clean practices. They truly believe that business without bribing pays in the long run.

Many more companies must join efforts like this. Industry bodies in India must be frank and candid about graft and corruption. There must be more public debates. Civil society leaders must encourage and celebrate companies that openly pledge to be clean. This could be the only way to sustain a winning fight against corruption.

Author: Pranjal Sharma is a Consulting Editor at Businessworld, India. Parts of this article first appeared in Businessworld

Image: Indian currency is seen in Mumbai REUTERS/Vivek Prakash