July 2, 2007
In 2006, there were a total of 47 new open US corruption investigations of major international companies such as Seimens, BNP Paribas, Total and Baker Hughes. That represents a 213% increase over 2005. The SEC and the Department of Justice are now more aggressively enforcing the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA.)
The FCPA is very specific, from a legal standpoint, as to what constitutes corruption. We may be tempted to think that corruption is an issue for the elite, the corporations and big government. What about corruption at a lower level, in our everyday life?
Are there other more subtle forms of corruption that may not necessarily be illegal but that are definitely unethical?
I think there are.
The Merriam-Webster definition of corruption as "an impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principles" clearly applies to all of us.
A recent survey found that about 20 % of respondents admitted stealing office supplies from their company and one fifth of them had no remorse. The survey also indicated that the employees that were highly paid stole more than those that earned less.
While there is a major legal difference between a felony and a misdemeanor the distinction is not as definite in ethical or moral terms. While stealing a million dollars is a felony and stealing 50 cents is petty theft, the ethical principles are the same; only the dollar amount is different.
None of us are innocent of doing something others would find wrong. I break the law almost every day, driving to work, speeding 10 miles above the speed limit.
The expression "slippery slope" is a warning that a minor ethics violation might lead to a major one. Once a principle has been violated, it will mostly likely be violated again, in different circumstances that could have major consequences.
As George Bernanos once said, "the first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means."
We must constantly be reminded that the end does NOT justify the means.