WEF panel shines a light on the issue of anti-corruption

This week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I was pleased to participate on a panel discussion about the links between transparency, corruption and economic growth around the world. This is a topic of extreme importance to us for many reasons: First, we are one of the most global organizations in the world – the Reuters news business has operated in more than 100 countries for more than 100 years.  Additionally, our Trust Principles require that our standards in this area are above reproach. And finally, one of our fastest growing business units – Governance, Risk & Compliance – helps companies and countries manage exactly these types of risks.

I shared the stage with Nigeria’s central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the chairman of India’s Bajaj Auto, Rahul Bajaj, the CEO of construction firm CH2M Hill Companies, Lee McIntire and the CEO of FTI Consulting, Jack Dunn. The session was moderated by the Guardian’s Economic Editor Lawrence Elliott.  While the session was held under Chatham House Rule, which prevents me from disclosing exactly what was said and by whom, I will summarize at a high level.

Jim SmithOne thing which all of us agreed upon is that transparency and the rule of law are essential to creating a level playing field around the world. We also agreed that the stakes of non-compliance are far too high today for companies or countries to ignore. Regulations like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the US and the UK’s Anti-bribery Act have added real teeth to enforcement efforts. And the negative impact to a company’s brand for bad behavior in this area has never been more swift nor severe.

Another important point is that corruption is not just a problem in emerging markets. Even the biggest and best companies can get in trouble if they are not vigilant; you only have to look some high profile institutions being condemned in the media today. It is also encouraging to know that the charge to reform is being led by some courageous public servants in emerging markets themselves. I was incredibly impressed by what central bank governor Sanusi and his colleagues in Nigeria have been doing to pursue high-profile corruption cases, seize ill-gotten assets and send the offenders to prison. This sets a great example for other countries around the globe.

For us, it is encouraging to know that information and our workflow tools can be a big part of the answer here. Products like World-Check and IntegraScreen are important not only to help banks prevent fraud, abuse and money-laundering — they also help any number of companies to screen counterparties around the world. (If you have a global supply chain or a global sales and distribution network, you may be on the hook for what happens around the world on your behalf). Just another example of how the work we do every day helps our company to do well by us doing good.