From Behind the Bribe: The Dark Side of International Business

On Thursday, The Fletcher Political Risk Group hosted Richard Bistrong of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC for an hour-long interactive session on the dangers of corruption and the realities of compliance. An experienced practitioner view was a perfect fit for the large group of Fletcher graduate students and professors, grabbing a quick lunch between their international law and business classes.

Bistrong melded the professional, practical, and ethical perspectives of bribery (a word never spoken outside the courtroom). Even with a strong culture of corporate responsibility at the C-suite level, leadership does not always readily find its way to personnel on the front lines of business, often selected (and rewarded) for their competitive risk taking instincts.

Commercial third parties, often called "agents," "intermediaries,"  or "fixers," develop corrupt relationships with public officials, often engrained in local cultures and ignored by in-country legal systems. For those in the field, it can be hard to see the ethical impact of these transactions as objectively negative; however, Bistrong emphasizes, "There are always victims of bribery. It is not a victimless crime but at the time I was ethically numb and it looked as a “win-win” from the business perspective."

He offered prompts to the future legal, corporate, and government leaders of the Fletcher School:

What are the unspoken messages of aggressive forecasts and compensation structures in high risk and low integrity regions?

How can governments and corporations impact weak state institutions, where public procurement officials are often paid at poverty wages, with little to no training, and where procurement laws are deliberately confusing?

The definitive answers to these questions are hardly agreed upon or easy to implement, but the students of the Fletcher School will certainly continue to be faced with them for the years to come.

- Matthew Keller, F'16

Matthew KellerComment