Will ours be the time when international public corruption is finally tossed into the garbage can of history? There are plenty of reasons to think so.
Only five years ago, even thoughtful people believed overseas bribery was a victimless crime — a harmless agreement between two consulting adults.
Happily, that idea is largely gone, replaced by an awareness, still growing, that graft’s victims can be counted in the billions.
What changed attitudes? Not one thing but many.
Respected NGOs are now speaking for the victims. The stories aren’t pleasant (think ‘Blood Diamond’), but the links between graft and human rights abuses are now in plain sight. Global Witness’ briefing on illegal and exploitive logging, as one example among many, is heartbreaking.
Though the damage from corruption can be seen and felt, it’s hard to measure, putting it in the realm of ‘soft’ science. Still, some brave academics have taken up the cause. One is Elizabeth Spahn at New England Law School (“The impact of a self-reinforcing cycle of bribes, regulations and deteriorating quality control is not limited to consumer purchases however. Even the truly wealthy consume air and water. Systemic bribery has a negative impact on environmental regulation.”)
The U.N. and OECD are promoting the links between compliance, ethics, and human rights. It’s one of the most important new trends of corporate citizenship.
Ordinary people have more power to fight corruption than at any time in history. There’s easy access to online public and private hotlines. Cell phones record ‘secret’ shakedowns in the tax office, snap photos of cash-grabbing clerks, and capture videos of corrupt cops and judges that might appear on YouTube an hour later.
Through Facebook, victims find each other and lock arms. And with Twitter, a hundred thousand people can be in the streets by noon to march against sleaze.
No wonder anti-corruption enforcement is spreading beyond the United States. The U.K. is now on the front lines, Canada has joined the fight, the G-7 have more attention on enforcement than ever, and the OECD is pushing all of its members to get on board.
Sure, there’s lots of work ahead. But these really are hopeful times.