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Harry Cassin
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Andy Spalding
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Jessica Tillipman
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Richard L. Cassin
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Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
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Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
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Bill Waite
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Shruti J. Shah
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Russell A. Stamets
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Richard Bistrong
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Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

The FCPA — Idealistic, Impractical, Naive, and So American

Since the Walmart saga became news earlier this week, well-meaning people have been asking the question:

Why do we have the FCPA?

Bribery is a way of life in lots of places, they say. If American companies can’t pay bribes, we’ll lose business. The winners will be Chinese companies, or Russians, or (gasp) Europeans.

To which we reply: Yes, the FCPA is idealistic, impractical, and naive. It’s a law dreamed up thirty five years ago by people who believed they could change the world. Who weren’t ready to give in to the Dark Side. Who, despite everything, still listened to their better angels.

How typically American. Just what you’d expect from the descendants of men and women who conquered a continent with mules and shovels. Who fought and won two world wars — sacrificial victories that really did save the Western democracies. Who put men on the moon and, well, you know the rest.

We’ll stipulate that sometimes the FCPA causes Americans to lose business. That’s tough to swallow. But does it mean we should unleash American bribery across the globe? How is that a better choice? Business isn’t about making money by any means. If that were true, mafia dons would be teaching at the Harvard B School.

Because of the work we do here, people tell us things. Like how they admire and even love the FCPA. People in Nigeria, Colombia, Indonesia. Places where corruption really is a way of life. To those people, the message from America and the FCPA is that bribery is wrong. That it can and should be opposed. That for corruption’s victims, counted in the millions or even billions, there’s always hope.

The FCPA isn’t perfect. Name a law that is. We’d like to see a corporate immunity plan and a good-faith defense. Less successor liability. More sunshine on declinations. And practical guidance from the DOJ. Those are easy changes and won’t reduce compliance. They’d make the FCPA better and stronger.

But even as it is, we’re proud of the FCPA. And of a country that still believes in laws that are idealistic, impractical, and naive.

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1 Comment

  1. I think the US practices are really admirable and idealistic.What baffles most of ethical executives in various Asian countries is that these US MNCs try to impose alien law/practices without giving any training to their native staff,no clear authority matrix on any payments for getting petty jobs done,and no sensitivity and respect for some offline needs of the customers.If these are considered "bribes" under FCPA these things should be clarified to local staff upfront and zero-tolerance implemented.When the crunch comes,the US resident manager tries to find a local sucker for acting as a sacrificial lamb.This is nothing but absolute high handedness! Does the DoJ provide protection to that local staff against incorrect audit?

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