A range of British and international NGOs have urged politicians not to water down the Bribery Bill which was presented to the House of Lords last week. They insist that bribery is a “threat to development and democracy”.
The UK's current anti-bribery laws were described as “antiquated” in a joint statement by the groups, which include CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund, The Corner House and Transparency International.
Recent years have seen growing criticism of the British authorities' failure to bring prosecutions for UK-based companies bribing foreign officials to secure business. The issue hit the headlines in 2006 when the government intervened to cancel a corruption investigation into BAE Systems' arms deals with Saudi Arabia. As a result, the government was taken to court by The Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
Critiics suggested that failure to tackle bribery was harming Britain's reputation. The OECD's international anti-bribery working group later strongly criticised the UK's anti-corruption procedures, prompting the inclusion of a Bribery Bill in the 2009 Queen's Speech.
“When multinational companies bribe foreign public officials, it undermines the rule of law and the principle of fair competition and entrenches bad governance in developing countries, hindering their efforts to alleviate poverty and often contributing to instability and human rights abuses” said the NGOs in a joint statement.
They insisted that bribery is not a victimless crime, but disproportionately affects the poorest people in the poorest countries. Twent-five per cent of African states' GDP is lost to corruption every year, while the cost of bribes paid by Mexicans on low incomes was 24 per cent of household income in 2005.
According to the NGOs, corruption is undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which are designed to reduce global poverty. They told politicians that “corruption, including bribery, impedes the delivery of vital public services, denying millions of people access to water, health and education across the developing world”.
They added that “as long as UK companies continue to pay bribes to secure lucrative business deals overseas they perpetuate the problem”.