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第4册 - Unit 6, Section A - Bribery and Business Ethics

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Students taking business courses are sometimes a little surprised to find that classes on business ethics have been included in their schedule. They often do not realize that bribery 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 The company rejected these charges and they were later withdrawn.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 £ 1,000 million 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, third largest of the U.S. 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 U.S. companies that had admitted to the U.S. 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 U.S. corporation offered a large sum of money in support of a U.S. presidential candidate at a time when the company was under investigation for possible violations of U. S. business laws. This same company, it was revealed, was ready to finance secret U.S. 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 country. Other countries have also been known to put pressure on foreign companies to make donations to party bank accounts.

The second category covers payments made to obtain quicker official approval of some project, to speed up the wheels of government. An interesting example of this kind of payment is provided by the story of a sales manager who had been trying for some months to sell road machinery to the Minister of Works of a Caribbean country. Finally, he hit upon the answer. Discovering that the minister collected rare books, he bought a rare edition of a book, slipped $20,000 within its pages, then presented it to the minister. This man examined its contents, then said: 'I understand there is a two-volume edition of this work.' The sales manager, who was quick-witted, replied: 'My company cannot afford a two-volume edition, sir, but we could offer you a copy with a preface!' A short time later, the deal was approved.

The third category involves payments made in countries where it is traditional to pay people to help with the passage of a business deal. Some Middle East countries would be included on this list, as well as certain Asian countries.

Is it possible to devise a code of rules for companies that would prohibit bribery in all its forms? The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) favors a code of conduct that would ban the giving and seeking of bribes. This code would try to distinguish between commissions paid for real services and exaggerated fees that really amount to bribes. A council has been proposed to manage the code.

Unfortunately, opinions differ among members of the ICC concerning how to enforce the code. The British members would like the system to have enough legal power to make companies behave themselves. However, the French delegates think it is the business of governments to make and impose law; the job of a business community like the ICC is to say what is right and wrong, but not to impose anything.

In a well-known British newspaper, a writer argued recently that 'industry is caught in a web of bribery' and that everyone is 'on the take';. This is probably an exaggeration. However, today's businessman, selling in overseas markets, will frequently meet situations where it is difficult to square his business interests with his moral conscience.

商科学生有时对课程里包含商业道德课略感吃惊。

他们通常没意识到在很多国家,形形色色的贿赂行为正日益增多。在某些国家,这已成为人们几百年来的一种生活方式。

假定在一场与政府官员的谈判中,贸易部长向你明确表示如能给他一大笔贿赂,那么你的商品拿到进口许可证就会容易得多,还可能避免他所说的"程序上的延误"。

现在的问题是:你是被迫掏钱呢,还是坚持原则?

高尚的道德标准说起来容易,但实际上人们在这种情况下究竟会怎么做呢?

早些时候,一家英国汽车制造商被指控利用一笔基金行贿,并进行其他一些可疑运作,如给代理商和客户高额回扣、提供额外折扣、向一些在瑞士银行开的匿名账户汇款等。

这家汽车公司否认了这些指控,后来指控也被撤销了。

然而,当时英国汽车业里就有人准备私下里说:"瞧,我们这一行竞争激烈,

每年我们汽车的海外销售额超过10亿英镑。

如果花几百万英镑能让一些客户高兴,谁会有损失呢?

我们不这样干,别人也会这样干的。"

很容易产生这样的印象:贿赂以及其他可疑开支正日渐增多。

的确,这似乎已成为商界的一个事实。

仅举一例:美国第三大汽车制造企业克莱斯勒汽车公司透露,它在1971至1976年间共发生了250万美元的可疑开支。

这一事实的披露,使克莱斯勒与其他300多家美国公司一样,向美国证券交易委员会承认自己近年曾有过某种形式的支出,像贿赂、额外打折等。

为方便讨论起见,我们可将这些支出分为三大类。

第一大类是那些为政治目的或为获得大宗合同所付出的大笔款项。

比如,有一家美国企业曾因可能违反美国商业法规而受调查,当时它捐出一大笔款项支持一位总统候选人。

后来发现,这家公司也打算资助美国推翻智利政府的秘密行动。

这一大类也包括为得到武器销售或重大的石油、建筑等项目的合同而向权势家族及其身边的顾问所付出的大笔款项。

在一桩涉及对伊朗武器销售的案子中,一位证人声称一家英国公司曾付给某"洽谈人"100万英镑。此人帮忙做成了一笔向伊朗提供坦克和其他军事装备的交易。

据闻其他国家也是如此,向外国公司施压,要他们向党派组织的账户捐款。

第二大类包括旨在促使政府加快对某些工程项目的正式批准而作的支出。

关于这一点有个有趣的例子:有个销售经理几个月来一直试图向加勒比地区一个国家的建工部长推销道路工程机械。

后来,他想到了办法。

了解到建工部长收藏珍本书,他买了一本书的珍藏版,在书里夹了两万美元,将其送给部长。

部长看了书的内容后说:"我知道这书有两卷本的。"

机敏的销售经理答道:"先生,我们公司买不起两卷本,不过可以给你弄一本带'前言'的!"

不久,这笔生意获准了。

第三大类指某些国家按照传统做法付给在交易中起作用的人的费用。

中东的一些国家和某些亚洲国家的做法都属此类。

是否有可能制订一套公司法规,防止各种类型的贿赂呢?

国际商会(ICC)赞成用一套行为准则来制止行贿索贿。

这一准则试图区分哪些是真正为服务所付的佣金,哪些是等同于贿赂的过高费用。

已经成立了一个委员会来实际操作这一准则。

可惜的是,国际商会委员们就如何实行这一法规的意见不一。

英国委员们希望这一体系有充分的法律效力以使公司规范行事。

而法国代表认为制定和实施法律是政府的事。

像国际商会这样的商业团体该做的是表明孰对孰错,而非强制实行什么。

在一家知名英国报纸上,最近有位作者指出"企业已陷入贿赂网",人人都"贪赃枉法"。

这一说法可能有些夸张。

然而,如今做海外销售的商人们常常难以做到既确保自己的商业利益,又无愧于道德良心。

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