Battle to kill sleaze heats up

Efforts to kill sleaze grew in 2013.

Even China bashed big pharma over bribes for doctors. World regimes made fresh laws and vows to end kickbacks.

“Corruption is enemy number one,” claimed a recent FT feature.[1]

China is home of foul play in so many parts of public life. Now there’s a strong leader in charge of fighting sleaze. He has launched a tough fight to stop the rot.

The newest Delhi state rulers have a popular anti-graft remit. As an early step they have launched a phone hotline for the 12 million citizens. The service tells callers ways to run sting set-ups. They learn covert ways to record talks with public servants on the take.

Spain has at last agreed a Transparency Law after over a year passing through the legal system. Meanwhile, the high profile legal case against the King’s youngest daughter keeps going. She is charged with possible tax evasion and money laundering.

Diverse forms of sleaze can cost a country dear. It could be over a fifth of yearly output. The worst impact harms poor people and corrodes the fabric of society.

Venality can also mean a heavy extra burden for business. “Bribery is now a $1 trillion industry”, says the World Bank.[2] This malign practice adds over 10% to the costs of doing business. Action on this global scourge needs more than fine words and formal rules. What matters is action by ethically-minded leaders.

These are not confined to politicians or business people. For instance, a brave Chinese reporter Luo Changping exposed corruption. But his magazine failed to name the high-level official on the make.chinese journalist exposes sleaze

On his personal blog Luo made public the individual’s name. A state investigation followed. The corrupt officer was expelled from the party and booted from office in 2013.[3]

In Jordan a new group brings together lawyers and activists. As ethical leaders they are pushing the anti-sleaze agenda. It follows weeks of protests against extortion since 2011. Their message is a call to action: clean up crooked institutions and fight impunity.

The strong business case for ethics has yet to be matched by an equal supply of leaders willing to struggle against rackets. Too often those at the top say it’s vital to resist bribery yet condone what goes on out of sight.

Action on sleaze

Leaders wishing to make their company more ethical can call upon plenty of weapons. The starting point is always personal: will they take responsibility for starting to change the situation?

Next, they need to persist at keeping the organisation’s culture focused on this issue. The challenge is making sure everyone signs up to resisting corrupt practices.

Ethical leaders can boost their business by approaching the task from both the individual and the wider company perspective. This is one of the main points made in Ethical Leadership, Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Business Culture.

Professor UnruhA narrow, systems-based view can strengthen corporate culture to resist corruption. Professor Greg Unruh, at the Thunderbird School of Management suggests five measures[4]

1)    Look for ethical candidates in the recruitment and hire process.

2)    Minimize ethical “grey areas” and the potential for conflict of interest.

3)    Reward desired behaviour such as integrity, excellence, teamwork and accountability

4)    Ensure financial incentives that are coherent with ethics expectations.

5)    Protect employees from ethical risk.

A systems view though relies on the power of compliance methods. Many leaders are more comfortable with these and talking about procedures, metrics, standardisation and enforcement.

Just as important is support to individuals. They must understand the way their own values relate to those of the organisation. People need to know they’re expected to take responsibility for their actions and how to seek help if needed.

Finally, employees should feel sure their leaders will never tolerate corruption as a short cut to sales and big contracts.


[1] P.Stephens, Riches and risk: Welcome to the World of Tomorrow, FT 10th January 2014.

[4] Managing Corruption, Not Ethics, Greg Unruh, Thunderbird professor, School of Global Management






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