Corporate Citizenship - Organizations Transparency International: Establishing A Legal And Regulatory Framework To Address Corruption

Editor: Ms. Boswell, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Boswell: Before joining Transparency International-USA, I worked at Citibank and then practiced international law with the Washington, DC firm, Steptoe & Johnson, where my focus was on international trade, export controls, and issues of sovereign immunity.

Editor: How did you come to Transparency International?

Boswell: I volunteered to help a new organization that was committed to addressing corruption in international business and development. A local chapter had recently been launched in the U.S. Today the issue is at the top of the international agenda, and the U.S. chapter consists of a diverse group from the private sector, academia and the government working on reforms in cooperation with other local chapters in over 90 countries.

Editor: Please tell us about the organization. For starters, how did it come to be founded?

Boswell: Dr. Peter Eigen, a career lawyer at The World Bank, believed that corruption was undermining the bank's development objectives. He sought to have the Bank address the issue and was told that it fell outside the Bank's mandate. He decided to leave the Bank, return to his home in Berlin and, with a group of highly influential and prestigious individuals, establish Transparency International, a new non-partisan NGO committed to fighting corruption.

Since then, under the leadership of James Wolfensohn, former President of The World Bank, and continuing with the current President Paul Wolfowitz, the Bank has sent out a clear message concerning the importance of curtailing corruption. For example, it has established an Institutional Integrity Unit that has examined some 2000 cases of alleged corruption in Bank finance projects and publicly blacklisted over 300 companies and individuals. This represents a reversal in Bank policy regarding its role in fighting corruption, and TI had a profound influence on this turnaround.

Editor: Who were the key individuals in the success of Transparency International?

Boswell: Clearly, Dr. Eigen was crucial in having the vision and the courage to follow through. But, an organization does not expand to over 90 countries nor have the impact that TI has had without the support of too many "key" individuals to mention all of them. It took a diverse group of people, united in their concern about the impact of bribery and corruption on international development and trade, such as the current President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo and the former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias. Ben Heineman at GE, and Ira Milstein of Weil, Gotshal & Manges also contributed to the founding of TI and helped us convince the international development community that corruption was not simply a nuisance but rather a systemic issue that had to be addressed. We continue to rely on such experts from the corporate, legal, accounting and other communities to carry out our agenda.

Editor: And its funding? How does the organization generate revenue for its undertakings?

Boswell: The leading financial contributors are from the development community, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and its counterpart agencies in other donor countries. Private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and George Soros' Open Society Institute have been generous as well, particularly in supporting TI's development of anti-corruption tools, including the TI Corruption Perception Index and the Bribe Payers Index.

We rely on generous support from corporations which recognize corruption is a competition and risk management issue. Companies such as SAP are supporting our development of private sector tools and others, like Merck, are contributing to our regional and sector specific work. There are many opportunities to get involved.

Editor: What is the mission of Transparency International?

Boswell: Our mission is to mobilize action against corruption by governments, international development organizations, corporations, organizations in the financial sector - members of the investment community, ratings agencies, commercial banks, and so on - and the "gatekeepers", including lawyers, accountants, bankers, and engineers. This mobilization takes place in both the developed and the developing world.

Editor: Corruption has been with us for a very long time. The mobilization against it that Transparency International represents is very recent. Why was the problem ignored for such a long time?

Boswell: There was a common misperception that corruption was inevitable, part of the cost of doing business. Competing geopolitical objectives during the Cold War also contributed to the acceptance of corruption.

Editor: How is Transparency International organized?

Boswell: The TI Secretariat, headquartered in Berlin, serves as the hub of a network that spans some 90 countries. Each national chapter is separately incorporated, with its own board of directors, agenda, and fundraising. However, we are a closely integrated network, with daily interaction among colleagues all over the world. Collectively, we reflect the fact that corruption is not unique to any one country or region, and together we can have a far greater impact.

Editor: How does the organization relate to national governments?

Boswell: Where possible, our approach is generally one of constructive engagement. TI Chapters try to work with government on issues such as access to information, procurement transparency, and effective anti-bribery legislation, drafting model laws where appropriate. Many of the chapters also conduct educational programs for children and teachers. We also try to influence national governments through multilateral agreements, such as the OECD Convention on Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and the UN Convention Against Corruption. The U.S. government has been in the forefront of the movement to include transparency requirements in trade agreements, such as CAFTA, and the APEC economies have committed to implement transparency standards.

We are working successfully with the private sector as well. They recognize the reputational risk and need to ensure that personnel operate with integrity. With a task force including major multinationals, we developed an anti-bribery code of conduct and a guidance document, and a self-evaluation module is in the works. We are working with industry sectors, including construction, defense and pharmaceuticals, to adopt and implement such codes. To date, we have worked successfully with the World Economic Forum to secure adherence by dozens of leading construction firms.

We have learned that those who resist extortion are less likely to be pursued and those who take their integrity programs abroad can contribute to reducing corruption over the long term.

Editor: And to international bodies, such as the United Nations?

Boswell: We supported the conclusion of a UN Convention Against Corruption, which will enter into force before the end of this year. It is a comprehensive blueprint for preventive and criminal measures to reduce corruption and provides for greater mutual legal assistance and asset recovery which should act as disincentives to kleptocrats.

The UN Global Compact, a voluntary set of principles to which thousands of corporations have subscribed, has added a principle dealing with bribery and corruption. The UNGC will recommend that companies refer to the TI Business Principles for Countering Bribery in complying with this principle.

As to the World Bank, as noted earlier, former President James Wolfensohn took the lead in turning the bank around. He and Dr. Eigen developed a productive relationship, and TI provides frequent advice based on lessons it has learned. Dr. Eigen has already met with the new President, Paul Wolfowitz, who gives every indication that he plans to make the fight against corruption a priority.

Editor: Please tell us about the role that the media plays in the accomplishment of Transparency International's mission.

Boswell: It is vital. A vigorous press was responsible for covering scandals in the early '80s that made it clear corruption is not just an issue for the developing world. The resulting public outcry served to motivate governments, the international development community, and the private sector to recognize the need to address the issue forcefully and with urgency. Continuing media coverage of scandals provides the momentum for our agenda. Where the press is subject to constraints, intimidating libel suits and even threats, it is far more difficult to address the issue.

Editor: Please share with us your thoughts as to why, as the global economy becomes increasingly integrated, winning the battle against corruption is so crucial.

Boswell: While the global economy has become increasingly integrated, continuing poverty and pockets of economic disparity underscore that the benefits of globalization have not been universally shared. Indeed, World Bank and other research demonstrates that corruption impedes economic growth and that development assistance will be more effective and foreign direct investment more likely to flow if countries have transparent legal and regulatory systems and accountable governments.

And, of course, the question of security arises, particularly after 9/11. Continuing poverty and a sense of alienation from corrupt leaders leads to political instability and provides fertile ground for extremism.

Editor: How are we doing? There seem to be many areas of the world - Africa and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia come to mind - that are not faring well in this battle.

Boswell: This is a long-term campaign, and there is no silver bullet. We would be naïve to think that things are going to change overnight. But we have come a long way. As recently as the early 1990s people would not talk about the issue of corruption. Today it is on everyone's agenda, and we are in the process of establishing - through international conventions and national laws - a global legal and regulatory framework for fighting corruption. The rules are in place and now the challenge is to ensure they have a practical impact. We hope that your readership will consider joining our campaign.

Published October 1, 2005.