Why do people pay bribes? There are myriad theories and explanations for bribery, ranging from greed to extortion. Recent research into the psychology of corruption has generated new and interesting theories.
One study found that collectivism, that is, a culture that places shared identity and responsibility over the individual, may promote bribery. The study specifically found that the people who had a collectivist mindset were more likely to pay bribes and feel less personal accountability for their actions.
Another study found that countries with higher rates of tipping also tended to have higher corruption rates. This was especially true where tips are given to encourage better service in the future rather than rewarding service already provided.
Still other research has shown that when the harm from bribery appears remote, people are less likely to see bribery as unethical, and that in a group setting, people tend to change their personalities to conform to a group identity, which can make corruption more widespread and long-lasting.
The wide range of possible reasons for why people bribe does not mean that companies are helpless in trying to prevent bribery. In fact, companies can act in small ways that make a big difference. For example, in communications with employees, remind them of the human element of corruption: how bribery and corruption can lead to environmental damage, diminished health or political crises. This will make the harm from bribery more immediate and present to employees. Emphasize that anti-bribery efforts are an important element of the company’s identity. Finally, ensure that employees are aware that cultural differences in countries where the company operates are no excuse for bribery. For instance, which tipping certain private sector service providers may be expected in countries like the United States or India (e.g., taxi drivers, waiters and waitresses), employees should make sure they are not using tipping as a way to encourage future behavior that benefits them or the company. Setting expectations with regard to favors in the private sector will help employees have an appropriate mindset and avoid running afoul of anti-bribery laws when interactive with both outside business partners and government officials.
Actions like these will help companies prevent bribery, no matter what a person’s motivation.
TRACE International and TRACE Incorporated are two distinct entities with a common mission to advance commercial transparency worldwide by supporting the compliance efforts of multinational companies and their third-party intermediaries. TRACE International is a nonprofit business association that pools resources to provide members with anti-bribery compliance support while TRACE Incorporated offers both members and non-members customizable risk-based due diligence, anti-bribery training and advisory services. Working alongside one another, TRACE International and TRACE Incorporated offer an end-to-end, cost-effective and innovative solution for anti-bribery and third-party compliance. For more information, visit www.TRACEinternational.org.