The Crucial Role of Corporate Boards in Ensuring Corporate Integrity

Volkswagen’s diesel emissions cheat has cost the company dearly. Last October, Volkswagen reached a US$16.5 billion dollar settlement with the US government, and the value of Volkswagen’s stock today is worth about 50% of what it was before the scandal – a US$60 billion drop in the company’s valuation. Criminal charges against several senior managers, including chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, are still pending. Countless customers are furious, while many employees fear for their jobs as Volkswagen scrambles to cut its costs. (Some background on the scandal, as well as a regularly updated timeline, can be found here.)

What started as a “simple cheat” became a slippery slope for the whole company. Volkswagen failed to create a culture of corporate integrity; the institutional checks and balances that are supposed to prevent something like this from happening were purposefully or ignorantly subverted, and the company created all the wrong incentives. As Alison Taylor has argued on this blog, these are the perfect ingredients for a corrupt corporate culture.

Who to blame for this mess (and, similarly, many other corporate messes)? Just as “a fish rots from the head down,” a company’s board of directors must take responsibility for creating or allowing a toxic corporate culture that permits cheating and other unethical and illegal behavior. Continue reading

Guest Post: When and How Will We Learn How To Curb Corruption?

GAB is pleased to welcome Finn Heinrich, Research Director at Transparency International, who contributes the following guest post:

Listening to conversations about corruption among global policy-makers, corruption researchers, and anticorruption activists alike, I can’t help but notice that the focus of anticorruption research and policy is changing. The 1990s focused mainly on demonstrating that corruption exists and finding ways to measure it (largely through perception-based indicators), and the early 2000s were about assessing corruption risks in specific countries, sectors, or communities, and assessing the performance of anticorruption institutions. More recently, researchers (and their funders and clients) are shifting from the “Where is corruption?” question toward the “How can we fight corruption?” question. They ask: Do we know what works, when, where, and under which circumstances in curbing a specific type of corrupt behavior?

Answering such questions is extremely challenging. Corruption’s clandestine nature makes it difficult to measure, data is often of low quality or simply not available for time-series or cross-sectional analysis beyond aggregate country-level indicators. Furthermore, anticorruption interventions often lack an underlying theory of change which would be needed to design robust research evaluations to find out whether they worked and if so, how (and if not, why not). And we lack realistic but parsimonious causal models which can take account of contextual factors, which are so important to understand and tackle corruption, as corruption is an integral part of broader social and political power structures and relationships which differ across contexts. Similarly, there is a lack of exchange between micro-level approaches focusing on specific, usually local anticorruption interventions, on the one hand, and the macro-level literature on anti-corruption strategies and theories, on the other.

While we at Transparency International certainly do not have any ready-made solutions for these extremely tricky methodological and conceptual issues, we are committed to joining others in making headway on them and have therefore put the “what works” question at the heart of our organizational learning agenda by engaging in reviews of the existing evidence as well as ramping up impact reviews of some of our own key interventions. For example, we have just released a first rapid evidence review on how to curb political corruption, written by David Jackson and Daniel Salgado Moreno, which showcases some fascinating evidence from the vibrant field of political anticorruption research. We are also working with colleagues from Global Integrity on a more thorough evidence review on corruption grievance as a motivator for anti-corruption engagement and are planning further evidence reviews and impact evaluations.

As we start to get our feet wet and figure out how to best go about generating and making sense of the existing evidence on what works in anti-corruption, we are keen to engage with the broader anticorruption research community. Maybe there are others out there who have some ideas about how to go about learning about what works in fighting corruption? If so, please use the comment box on this blog or get in touch directly at

Will Leaving His Business “Completely” Solve Trump’s Conflict of Interest Problems?

President-elect Trump tweeted early November 30 “that legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.”  Will this suffice to resolve concerns about the potential conflicts of interest that could arise during his presidency?  While the answers of the anti- and pro-Trump camps are predictable (a heated, vitriolic “no” and an equally heated, vitriolic “yes” respectively) for others the answer will turn on two issues:

1) What conduct they understand the conflict of interest rules prohibit, and

2) Whether they think Trump’s removing himself “completely” from his businesses is enough to prevent it.

Media coverage about conflict of interest since Trump’s election has been so colored by opposition to Trump generally that those trying to fairly evaluate Trump’s plan are likely confused about both issues.  Herewith a guide to both to help fair-minded citizens evaluate the Trump plan.    Continue reading

Donald Trump Will Probably Violate the Foreign Emoluments Clause. So What?

Those of us who are still reeling from the shock and horror of Donald Trump’s election are going through many of the typical stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, etc. To these I’d add an additional stage of (political) grief, which seems to disproportionately afflict my fellow law professors: the desperate concoction of legally plausible but politically dead-on-arrival constitutional theories designed to stop Trump from becoming President (or stop him from doing lots of the things he wants to do).

Enter the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8), which provides that “no person holding any office [of the United States government] … shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” Many legal scholars, including my colleague Larry Tribe, as well as a number of legal ethics experts, have argued (persuasively, in my view) that Donald Trump’s global business dealings may well put him in violation of this Clause: If any foreign state pays above-market-value for any goods or services provided by the Trump business empire, or does any other favor (with a cash value) designed to benefit President Trump’s businesses, that could well be deemed a “present … of any kind.” The wording of the Emoluments Clause is broad: It does not require a quid pro quo, it does not require a showing that the gift was intended to influence a decision or an expression of gratitude for a decision already made. In contrast to the conflict-of-interest statutes, there is no explicit exemption from the Foreign Emoluments Clause for the President (though some scholars have sought to argue that the President is not covered, for reasons I don’t find all that persuasive). Furthermore, the “of any kind” modifier would seem to defeat many of the otherwise-plausible claims that the terms “present” and “emolument” should be read narrowly. (I imagine that there might still be a “de minimis” exception from the Emoluments Clause, allowing for ceremonial gifts of various kinds, but that’s not really what we’re talking about in the Trump case.) Though I’m no expert, based on what I’ve read thus far I’m prepared to accept the claim that should foreign governments provide benefits to the Trump Organization while Donald Trump is President—including paying above-market-rates, or steering business to Trump’s companies—then President Trump would be in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

The question is: So what? What’s the remedy for this constitutional violation?

There are three possibilities—a judicial remedy, an “elite” political remedy, and a public opinion remedy. None of them seems especially promising. Continue reading

Academics in Support of the Transparency International Secretariat’s Research Work

As most readers of this blog are likely aware, Transparency International (TI) is the world’s leading advocacy organization focused specifically on fighting corruption. In addition to the important advocacy work done by the TI Secretariat and TI’s many national chapters, Transparency International has also played an important role in producing and supporting a variety of research activities.

Word on the street is that Transparency International is in the middle of some sort of internal reorganization. It’s apparently a complicated situation, and while I certainly don’t know much about the details (particularly concerning matters like German labor law), some of my academic colleagues have raised concerns about the possible implications of the reorganization for TI’s research capacity. In response to these concerns, a group of academics sent a letter (which I signed) to the TI Board of Directors, emphasizing the important contributions of the TI Secretariat’s research team. Although these “insider” organizational issues might not be of interest to all our readers, I thought that some of you might be interested, and perhaps might also like to make your voices heard, so I am providing (with the permission of those responsible for drafting and sending the letter) the full text of the letter here:

Continue reading

The Destructive Attacks on Trump’s Ethics

Attacking President-elect Trump on the basis of his expected violations of the conflict of interest laws provides the anti-Trump crowd a convenient outlet to vent their anger and frustration over his election.  But as the attacks continue to pop up in op-eds and on cable and be smuggled into straight news reporting, those launching them might bear two things in mind:  the attacks will surely further divide the nation and, even worse for the anti-Trumpers, make it more likely Trump will pursue the policies he espouses that they so adamantly reject.

As explained here last week, the conflict of interest laws do not apply to presidents; suggestions that Trump should follow them even though he is exempt make no sense.    Continue reading

Was I Too Pessimistic on FCPA Enforcement in a Trump Administration? I Fear Not, But Hope So

A couple weeks back, I published a post (really, more of an extended wail) about the likely consequences of the Trump presidency for anticorruption efforts. Among my many worries was the concern that under a Trump administration, we may see the end (or at least the significant cutback) of the era of aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Other analysts—notably Peter Henning and Tom Fox—are less pessimistic in their assessments, and have written interesting explanations as to why FCPA enforcement is unlikely to change much under President Trump. I hope they’re right. And I suspect they probably are, if only because commentators—including, perhaps especially, so-called “experts”—have a demonstrated tendency to over-predict dramatic change. Most of the time, the safest prediction is that the future will resemble the past. And more specifically here, the forces of inertia in the U.S. federal government are strong, and sudden changes are both rare and unlikely.

Still, I’m not sure I’m fully convinced by the reasons that Mr. Fox, Mr. Henning, and others have offered for their more sanguine conclusion that FCPA enforcement will not change much under a Trump Administration. So, with the understanding (and sincere hope) that I’m probably wrong, let me address some of the principal arguments that have been advanced for the “no change” prediction. Continue reading