By  on July 12, 2007

WASHINGTON — Corporations, including Wal-Mart, are endorsing a new initiative intended to gather information on government officials, organizations and individuals who seek bribes as part of the cost of doing business.

A nonprofit group called Trace International Inc. launched on Wednesday, a Web site with an anonymous questionnaire designed to find out who sought a bribe and in what form payment was to be rendered. Based in Annapolis, Md., Trace specializes in antibribery due diligence reviews and compliance training for international sales agents, consultants and suppliers.

Collected in 14 languages, the data from Bribeline will be used to better track and understand who is demanding bribes and for what reasons. Theoretically, the site could offer specific details, such as the prevalence of routine bribes to customs officials in some countries, or where police and military officials are likely to demand illicit payments.

"Bribeline will further Wal-Mart's efforts to ensure we are allocating the necessary resources to combat corruption in those countries where we do business," Alberto Mora, vice president and general counsel for the international department of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said in a statement. "As a global company, it is important to Wal-Mart that we protect our reputation."

In addition to Wal-Mart, Trace said Target Corp., UPS, FedEx and other multinational companies are supporting its efforts by encouraging employees and business partners to make use of the bribery reporting tool.

With fashion brands and retailers tapping into global networks — more than 90 percent of the apparel sold in the U.S. is imported — industry executives regularly run into unscrupulous officials. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits companies from paying bribes to foreign officials.

Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace, gave some examples of the challenges facing global companies. In one, officials in the Pakistani postal service regularly delivered paychecks to the agent of a multinational corporation working in that country and, with prompting from an armed guard, insisted that the agent give them a cut.

Bribeline, however, is not a law enforcement tool for the crime, which the World Bank in 2004 estimated costs $1 trillion a year.

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