Lifting the Resource Curse: Beyond Potions, Incantations, and EITI

Thanks to Google those who have had a curse put on them can find numerous ways to lift it: from drinking a special potion on the first night of the waxing moon to repeating a certain incantation 13 times while holding a rabbit’s foot.  (Here, here and here for useful sources.)  But Google is not nearly so helpful for policymakers looking to lift the resource curse: the corruption, violence, and misgovernment that befall a poor country with plentiful quantities of hydrocarbons or other natural resources.

The best Google does for them is tout the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, a voluntary compact where the government agrees to disclose the monies it receives from the companies that produce its resource and the companies agree to report the monies they pay government.  As the 300,000 plus “hits” on EITI in Google explain, the theory is that civil society will use the disclosures to hold government and the companies accountable. Unfortunately for the policymaker looking for solutions to the resource curse, Google will also pull up a long list of studies (here and here for examples) showing that so far it has had little to no effect on corruption and governance in resource rich poor countries and that at best the relief it promises is many years away.

With this post I hope to persuade Google’s powers that be to modify the search algorithm so that when a user enters “resource curse – how to lift” something besides “EITI” is returned.  That something is Continue reading

Leniency Agreements Under Brazil’s Clean Company Act: Are They a Good Idea?

Brazil’s 2013 Clean Company Act, the country’s first anti-bribery statute applicable to companies, has grabbed Brazilians’ attention due to its recurrent use in the context of the so-called Car Wash operation. The Clean Company Act has provided the main legal basis for Brazilian public authorities (especially federal prosecutors) to sign leniency agreements with construction corporations whose top executives stand accused of bribing officials in exchange for contracts from Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil giant. Under the Act, Brazilian authorities may enter into a leniency agreement as long as the company admits its participation in the illicit act, ceases any further participation, provides full restitution for damage caused, and cooperates fully and permanently with the ongoing investigation. In exchange, the fines can be reduced by up to two-thirds and, more importantly, the cooperating company may be exempted from judicial and administrative sanctions, including suspension or debarment from public contracts. Over the course of the Car Wash investigation, Brazilian authorities have already signed five leniency agreements with some of Brazil’s largest engineering firms, and at least twelve more companies are currently negotiating leniency deals with Brazilian authorities.

But do these sorts of leniency agreements provide for sufficient deterrence of corrupt behavior? And are they consistent with the interest in punishing those companies that have committed a serious crime? Those who defend Brazil’s increasing use of leniency agreements emphasize that a similar approach has proven to be effective in countries like the United States, one of the most successful countries in the world in the fight against corruption. Indeed, the leniency agreements authorized by the Clean Company Act were modeled on the Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs) and Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) used by US authorities in white-collar criminal law enforcement. However, Brazil is following the US model precisely at a time when the widespread use of NPAs and DPAs is becoming more controversial, in part because of concerns that these sorts of agreements fail to deter economic crimes and allow high-ranking executives to escape accountability for their crimes (for a summary of the criticisms of those agreements, see here and here). Perhaps more importantly, even if one views the US experience with NPAs and DPAs as successful overall, there are several reasons why this model might be more problematic in the Brazilian context. Continue reading

Fighting Natural Resource Corruption: The Solomon Islands’ Challenge


On September 8 & 9 the Government of Solomon Islands, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the UN Development Program will host a workshop in Honiara to discuss the national anticorruption strategy the government is preparing.  One issue almost certain to arise is how the government can intensify the fight against corruption in the logging and mining sectors. Both sectors are critical to the nation’s economic well-being.  Commercial logging is currently the largest source of export revenues, but earnings are expected to decline sharply over the coming decade as forest reserves are depleted (due in no small part to corruption).  The hope is that increases in the mining of the country’s ample reserves of bauxite and nickel will replace losses from forestry.

Corruption in both sectors has been documented by scholars (here, here, and here for examples), the World Bank (here), and the Solomon Islands chapter of Transparency International.  The government has not only acknowledged the problem but has committed to addressing it.  Its recently released National Development Strategy 2016 – 2035 makes controlling corruption in logging and mining a priority.  As the strategy explains, corruption in the two sectors robs government of needed revenues and deprives local communities of the benefits from the development of resources on or under their lands.

Identifying a problem is one thing.  Coming up with solutions is another, particularly in the case of resource corruption in the Solomons where the combination of geography, poverty, and huge payoffs from corrupt deals make curbing it especially challenging.  The remainder of this post describes the hurdles Solomon Islanders and their government face and suggests ways they might overcome them.       Continue reading

Guest Post: The Draft ISO 37001 Anti-Bribery Standard’s Promise and Limitations

William Marquardt and David Holley, respectively Director and Managing Director at the Berkeley Research Group, LLC (a private management consulting firm) contribute the following guest post, which is written in their personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of the Berkeley Research Group or its other employees and affiliates:

This past April, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released its draft standard on anti-bribery management systems (ISO 37001). The standard is tentatively scheduled to be finalized later this year. In substantive content, the draft ISO standard is similar to the FCPA Resource Guide provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission, in that it provides a list of elements that an effective anti-bribery/corruption (“ABC”) program should contain. In terms of the specific elements listed, the proposed ISO standard provides a number of sound recommendations – such as a comprehensive, risk-based approach, as well as management commitment to promoting an ethical corporate culture—but with a few exceptions, the draft ISO 37001 standard is not much different from the guidance available from the DOJ/SEC and other sources in multiple jurisdictions.

That’s not to say that there is nothing whatsoever distinctive about ISO 37001. It does differ from the existing guidance in some ways, some good (such as the comprehensive focus on documentation, document retention, and document availability) and some not so good (such as the unrealistic recommendations regarding extension of management’s internal control systems to third-party vendors). The draft ISO standard also puzzlingly omits consideration of certain key issues –such as the labor law and data privacy issues that arise in connection with bribery investigations, questions regarding how to address anti-bribery concerns in connection with M&A or joint venture due diligence, and (most generally) the integration of ABC management systems into the firm’s wider financial, operational, and regulatory functions. But, again, in most respects the ISO 37001 draft standard closely resembles existing ABC guidance.

What makes the ISO 37001 standard distinctive, and the reason its finalization would be potentially such big news, is that ISO 37001 (like other ISO standards dealing with more technical matters) is intended to be subject to independent “certification” by third-party auditors. In other words, if and when the ISO 37001 standard is finalized, companies will be able to hire auditing firms to review their ABC programs and (if the auditor determines the firm meets the ISO 37001 criteria) to provide a formal certification that the company is ISO 37001-compliant. The question whether formal ISO 37001 certification of this sort will be a good thing (for firms, or for the world) has been hotly debated (for previous discussions on this blog, see here and here). Continue reading

Guest Post: A Behavioral Science Approach to Preventing Corruption

Johann Graf Lambsdorff, Professor of Economic Theory at Passau University, contributes the following guest post:

Some of our current approaches to corruption prevention perform badly. One reason is that many preventive methods are built on distrust towards officials and employees, who are seen as potentially corrupt actors. Yet research in behavioral science has provided us with impressive evidence that (many) people are (mostly) trustworthy, intrinsically motivated, and responsive to encouragement, praise, expressions of gratitude, and criticism. The problem with assuming that everyone is prone to engage in corruption if not carefully monitored is not only that prevention strategies premised on that assumption are very costly, but also that such approaches can be counterproductive: The atmosphere of distrust that they create can reduce interpersonal trust, intrinsic motivation, and the self-esteem that people get from contributing to public goods and working responsibly.

Economists have labelled these adverse collateral consequences “the hidden costs of control.” In a recent paper entitled “Preventing Corruption by Promoting Trust – Insights from Behavioral Science”, I explain how taking this phenomenon, as well related insights from behavioral sciences about creating positive incentives for good behavior, can help us design more effective policies. The paper illustrates this with the help of six examples: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Characteristics of Corrupt Corporate Cultures

Alison Taylor, the Director of Advisory Services for BSR (a global non-profit organization focused on sustainability) contributes the following guest post:

Despite all the investment in corporate anti-bribery compliance programs, supported by a lucrative consulting industry dominated by investigation companies and accounting and law firms, violations of anti-bribery laws, and firms’ own compliance policies, remains widespread. Why? The usual explanations focus on the external environment (“That’s just the way they do business over there”) or on “rogue employees,” but tend to neglect issues of “organizational culture”—how groups and teams behave when they might have a corruption problem. Yet organizational culture, structures, and incentives have been powerful factors in causing professionals to indulge in systemic corrupt practices.

But what, exactly, are the cultural drivers of corruption? What do a “culture of compliance” and its converse, a “culture of corruption,” actually look like? To find out I conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 23 experts on anti-corruption and corporate ethics. My questions were simple: What is the culture like in a corrupt organization? Can we generalize about leadership, decision-making, incentives, values, and behavior in corrupt organizations? Can we use these findings to understand the characteristics of an ethical culture?

The answers were revealing, and strikingly consistent in identifying the characteristics of organizational cultures prone to corruption. These traits, which I will summarize below, don’t guarantee that an organization will be corrupt — but the more of these characteristics are present, the more vulnerable an organization is. Continue reading

The OECD Report on Corruption in Sectors: Will it Hurt the Brand?

Consequences of Corruption at the Sector Level and Implications for Economic Growth and Development is the OECD’s latest report on corruption. Released March 25, it was written at the request of G-20 governments and follows an earlier one the organization did for the G-20’s September 2013 meeting.  Whereas that report examined the impact of corruption on rates of economic growth and levels of development, this one adopts a micro perspective, analyzing the effect of corruption and suggesting ways to fight it for four sectors of national economies: i) extractive industries, ii) utilities and infrastructure, iii) health, and iv) education. Among its more striking conclusions:

  • ”independent, competent and better regulatory and law enforcement systems” are critical for combating corruption;
  • “transparency should be an integral component of all anti-corruption strategies;” and
  • “anti-corruption measures must . . . be targeted and tailored.”

Additional examples of focused, cutting edge policy recommendations can be found by clicking “Continue reading.” Continue reading