Corruption and inclusion, where’s the link?

September 2019

This September, Enact had the privilege of supporting the Swedish Institute with the execution of the second module of SIMP Bolivia 2019.

Twenty-seven business leaders from Bolivia, in the heart of Latin America, came to Sweden for two weeks of intense training on sustainable business and responsible leadership where Enact’s Ruben Brunsveld had the privilege of running a session on anti-corruption. So why did he choose to focus on the link between corruption and inclusion?

What do they even have to do with one another? Protection against corruption is often considered “core business”, whilst “inclusion” is seen as a “soft issue”. With the increase in transparency, more vocal employees, and the rise of social media, “anti-corruption and compliance” have seen their budgets grow. “Inclusion”, however, has too often remained in the corner of “nice things to do”, sometimes snowed under by other priorities and hidden in an obscure Human Resource budget line.

In the training session we explored the different sides of the Fraud Triangle as originally developed by Donald R. Cressey and Edwin Sutherland. According to this model, three elements need to be in place for individuals to possibly act in a fraudulent manner:

  1. Rationalisation
  2. Opportunity
  3. Motivation

Rationalisation is the justification we build up inside our head for the act or behaviour we know we should not do. “Sure, we bribe the custom officials, but so do all our competitors and they care much less about their workers than we do”. It is our rationalisation that allows us to get up the next morning and still look at ourselves in the mirror. Now from an employers’ perspective, it is a difficult one to tackle. You need to discuss it, but the fact is that we all rationalise our smaller and bigger negative behaviours and it’s a process that takes place inside our mind where the possibilities to influence are limited.

It is often said that opportunity makes the thief. Whilst it is true that bigger temptations might be harder to resist, there are a lot of drawbacks with trying to eliminate every possible opportunity for fraud or corruption (if possible, at all). Putting in excessive control mechanisms in companies creates cultures of mistrust and non-transparency. It does not give employees a sense of ownership or care, and thus there is a risk it actually increases the kind of behaviour you are trying to prevent.

Which leaves us with the motivation. What motivates people to commit acts of corruption when they know very well that doing so can damage their personal position and the company’s reputation? There are different kinds of corrupt acts, committed out of need, greed or other feelings of dissatisfaction. The motivations for corrupt acts are as many as the acts themselves and find their origins in a multitude of socio-economic and psychological circumstances, so it’s difficult to make any general statements.

But what we do know, is when people tend not to commit acts of corruption and fraud. And that is when they feel they have a stake in the organisation’s well-being; when they feel ownership over their place of work and when they feel heard and respected. In other words: included. An investment in inclusion is a direct investment in anti-corruption. That is no “soft value”, that is direct impact on the bottom line.

That’s why this time, I did not focus on the different elements of building a code of conduct in my session for SIMP Bolivia. We did not look at regulatory frameworks or formal prerequisites for building a compliance program. Instead, we explored questions such as:

  • Why does your organisation exist?
  • When did you last feel pride in your company?
  • How do you celebrate individual successes?
  • When was the last time you consciously lifted someone’s spirit in your organisation?
  • What do you do, to make others feel included and owners of their work sphere?

Those are the tough – and core business – questions that we also need to discuss if we want to combat corruption effectively. As one of the participants said after the session: Combatir la corrupción no es solamente una cuestión de leyes o códigos, es también una cuestión del corazón [Combating corruption is not only a question of laws or codes, it is also a question of the heart] (but it sounds so much better in Spanish).

Ruben Brunsveld, Sr. Advisor, Enact Sustainable Strategies