Expansion of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention: A Skeptical View

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (the unwieldy official name of which is the “OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions”) has proven to be a surprisingly successful international agreement—far more effective than the various regional anticorruption instruments or the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and indeed far more effective than even the OECD Convention’s proponents had predicted. Of course, it’s hard to know how much one can credit the OECD Convention for changes in anticorruption laws and enforcement patterns, but lots of well-informed people believe it has had a big effect, primarily because of its rigorous peer review system. In contrast to other, weaker review systems associated with UNCAC and some of the regional conventions, members of the OECD Convention must submit to a quite extensive and intrusive form of peer review, in successive phases, and cannot veto or prevent disclosure of the resulting reports. The reports are often quite harsh, even scathing, and the political embarrassment associated with a bad review can shame governments and mobilize public opinion.

Given that the OECD Convention has been so successful, should it be expanded to include more countries? After all, membership in the Convention is not limited to the OECD , and indeed several non-OECD countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Columbia, Russia, and South Africa) are already parties. The OECD’s leadership seems to think the answer is a clear yes. At a recent Chatham House conference on “Combating Global Corruption” (which I was fortunate enough to attend), Ángel Gurría, the OECD Secretary-General, declared that it was “imperative that all G20 countries become Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery convention,” and specifically noted the importance of bringing China, India, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia on board.

I’m sympathetic to the general idea, and would certainly like to live in a world where all countries accepted—and respected—the commitments embodied in the OECD Convention. But rapid expansion of the Convention has important drawbacks that deserve more attention than they seem to be getting. So at the risk of being the skunk at the garden party, let me lay out the case for skepticism about rapid expansion of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

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