Just had a meeting with Alexandra Wrage, the founder of TRACE International and an expert on corporate corruption.
TRACE basically offers companies advice on how they can avoid the bribery pitfalls that they might meet in a country like China and on how they can remain compliant with ever-more-vigilant regulations from the West.
The US Department of Justice has companies operating in China in its cross-hairs and any company that has a branch in the US, but is found to have dealt out bribes in China, can be sued under US law.
For the last few years, Mrs Wrage said she had seen a gradual increase in transparency in China, as well as a desire to confront the omnipresent bribery culture.
She suggested the idea of compliance had become trendy, another way in which Chinese firms could distinguish themselves from their competition – a badge to wear, as it were. Even if Chinese companies still lag behind in the application of all the necessary frameworks and systems, it was looking promising.
On her most recent trip, however, which has just come an end, she said she was confronted, in each city she visited with outright denials that there was a problem at all. "It is a bit strange, when you are trying to give a seminar on corruption, to be told by the companies present that there is no problem at all," she said.
She wasn’t sure if the phenomenon was a freak one-off, or why every company might suddenly want to deny that there was any sort of bribery in China at all. She was simply confused by the sudden change. I wonder what might have triggered it?