Anti-Bribery Compliance

How policy framing shaped UK strategy on transnational bribery

The UK recently has been stepping up its anti-corruption enforcement.

The Bribery Act of 2010 is among the most stringent national laws aiming to control bribery and corruption in the global economy. In 2015, government introduced a new International Corruption Unit to investigate cases of international corruption in developing countries. Earlier in 2017, Rolls Royce agreed to pay £671 million in penalties to settle long-running corruption allegations having to with systematic bribery over three decades and across 13 countries.

The UK was a laggard on anti-bribery

This enforcement activity is new. Observers of UK anti-bribery policy might recall that, for over a decade, the United Kingdom failed to uphold its international legal commitments to control the supply-side of transnational bribery. In 1997 the UK agreed, alongside its partners in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on a binding international convention to criminalize the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions and to participate in peer review processes to monitor and enforce compliance.

Yet OECD peer reviewers recurrently found UK anti-bribery law deficient. The OECD’s Working Group on International Bribery (Working Group), the NGO Transparency International, and the UK’s sovereign allies sharply criticized the UK for inadequate implementation and enforcement of the anti-bribery convention. The OECD repeatedly urged the UK to “enact appropriate legislation and to do so as a matter of priority.”

Framing corruption: the importance of policy context

Corruption first ‘erupted’ as a global policy problem in the 1990s. Like many transnational issues, bribery and corruption can be addressed through a variety of policy contexts. For example, multiple anti-corruption initiatives have arisen as a way to promote free markets and fair competition in international business; monitor and support transition economies and democratization; implement international development policies and promote the effectiveness of foreign aid; promote corporate social responsibility, ethical business practices, and the regulation of multinational corporations; and, after 2001, control terrorist financing, transnational crime, and the illicit global economy.

The challenge for anti-corruption advocates seeking a strong frame is to identify which of these policy contexts is of highest priority to a given target audience. In the UK, proponents and opponents of rules against transnational bribery framed their advocacy in four different policy contexts:

International development and poverty reduction

First, the Department for International Development under Clare Short and Transparency International framed anti-corruption as a component of the government’s international development and poverty reduction policy. However, the department’s White Papers received practically no parliamentary attention. International development policy and foreign aid remained particularly low-priority issues. Within this frame, the policy on international bribery and corruption – not to mention compliance with the OECD Convention – was sidelined.

Source: London School of Economics and Political Science

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