Students taking business courses are sometimes a little surprised to find that classes on business <3>ethics3> have been included in their schedule.
They often do not realize that <1>bribery1> in various forms is on the increase in many countries and, in some, has been a way of life for centuries.
Suppose that during a negotiation with some government officials, the Minister of Trade makes it clear to you that if you offer him a substantial bribe, you will find it much easier to get an import license for your goods, and you are also likely to avoid "procedural delays", as he puts it.
Now, the question is: Do you pay up or stand by your principles?
It is easy to talk about having high moral standards but, in practice, what would one really do in such a situation?
Some time ago a British car manufacturer was accused of operating a fund to pay bribes, and of other questionable practices such as paying agents and purchasers an exaggerated commission, offering additional discounts, and making payments to numbered bank accounts in Switzerland.
The company rejected these charges and they were later withdrawn.
Nevertheless, at that time, there were people in the motor industry in Britain who were prepared to say in private: "Look, we're in a very competitive business.
Every year we're selling more than a ￡1billion worth of cars abroad.
If we spend a few million pounds to keep some of the buyers happy, who's hurt?
If we didn't do it, someone else would."
It is difficult to resist the impression that bribery and other questionable payments are on the increase.
Indeed, they seem to have become a fact of commercial life.
To take just one example, the Chrysler Corporation, the third largest of the US car manufacturers, revealed that it made questionable payments of more than $2.5 million between 1971 and 1976.
By announcing this, it joined more than 300 other US companies that had admitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that they had made payments of one kind or another—bribes, extra discounts, etc.—in recent years.
For discussion purposes, we can divide these payments into three broad categories.
The first category consists of substantial payments made for political purposes or to secure major contracts.
For example, one US corporation offered a large sum of money in support of a US presidential candidate at a time when the company was under investigation for possible violations of US business laws.
This same company, it was revealed, was ready to finance secret US efforts to throw out the government of Chile.
In this category, we may also include large payments made to ruling families or their close advisers in order to secure arms sales or major petroleum or construction contracts.
In a court case involving an arms deal with Iran, a witness claimed that ￡1 million had been paid by a British company to a "negotiator" who helped close a deal for the supply of tanks and other military equipment to that c