BBC: Big Tobacco Paying Bribes

I was recently taking breakfast with two friends in a quiet district of Amsterdam. While enjoying our salmon on omelet, and conversing in Dutch, we updated each other on our lives. A friend of my friend had a new job, he became a manager of a pharmaceutical company which works with plants. His job is to get permissions from authorities for new drugs which are 100% plant based. He told me that it actually does not matter if the drug works, all he needs for the permissions, is that the drug does not harm people. And he run experiments to prove that, and a lot of paperwork.

What he also did, was try and register the drugs in Russia, as they work internationally. And for that he had to wait for a long pile of drugs to be tested and then dealt with at an office. The longer he waited, the more opportunity costs he incurred, the drugs could have been on the market making money. So he called and arranged for 3000 EUR payment for the file to be put on top of the file, just to get his permission sorted out first. I asked if he would do something like that in The Netherlands, and the answer was “no”.

What made me wonder in this case was the ease with which companies in the West agree on corruption, or to give bribes, when they operate overseas. Often they say that it’s the only way to do business. But is it? What about the commitment to improve societies, practices and something that is more than the financial bottomline?

And now I saw this item in the news that British American Tobacco was paying bribes in Africa to suppress competitors. Of course they do! But it is still shocking to see that very often the Western companies, all in their glamorous ethos of being “modern” and “clean”, in fact, participate in corruption overseas, making lame excuses such as “that’s the only way to do business”. The end to this should come from governments but also, from media and whistle blowers, just like in the case of BAT.

If you want to listen to a long full-size radio program on the subject, here is the link. Unfortunately, this is available only form the UK.

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