Despite years of negotiations aimed at addressing transnational corruption, the international community has failed to establish an effective international legal regime to curb the problem. After providing an outline of the problem and a brief history of attempts to address it, this Commentary considers some possible explanations for the international community’s continuing inability to negotiate an effective agreement to crack down on firms that bribe foreign officials. The Commentary concludes by speculating that an institutionalized enforcement mechanism might provide impetus for an agreement.
II. THE PROBLEM
A. The Problems of Corruption
Corruption, “the misuse of public power for private profit,” can include practices as diverse as nepotism, patronage, misappropriation of resources, abuse of insider information, extortion, and money laundering. International attention, however, has focused largely on bribery. Of particular importance is bribery involving high government officials and procurement, privatization, or other large-scale public decisions, also known as “Grand Corruption.”
Although once accepted by some as useful “grease in the wheels,” corruption is now almost universally seen as both harmful and immoral. Corruption has been condemned by major world religions and international institutions, and bribery of government officials is illegal in almost every country.
Corruption hurts economic growth and development, creating market inefficiencies by allocating resources based on bribery rather than merit. The corruption of regulatory systems not only transfers resources from honest people to unscrupulous ones, but can also put health and safety at risk. Widespread bribery undermines “public perceptions of how—and how well—a proper market economy works,” inhibiting liberal reforms and the rule of law.