Thursday, July 12, 2007

The fight against international corruption and bribery received a boost yesterday with the introduction of, a Web-based tool to report bribery suspicions.

Created by Trace Inc., a nonprofit business association in Annapolis, BribeLine will try to track bribery incidents and identify the trends and patterns of global business corruption.

“This will help governments who are interested in rooting out these problems, to focus their efforts,” said Michelle Gavin, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member at Trace.

The World Bank estimates that $1 trillion is lost every year to bribery and corruption, nearly 3 percent of the global economy.

A 2006 survey conducted by Transparency International, a nongovernmental corruption watchdog in Germany, found that 43 percent of respondents believed that their company had failed to win a contract because a competitor had paid a bribe.

With so much corruption going unreported, companies and governments want to better understand the shadowy dealings that affect the global economy every day.

“We want to know what we’re up against,” said Maura Abeln Smith, senior vice president of the International Paper Co., a Memphis, Tenn., paper and packaging company with more than 200 locations worldwide. “Bribery and competition hurts everyone … it undermines everything we are trying to do.”

The new system enables employees or citizens who have been asked to pay a bribe to complete an anonymous survey about the incident without naming any names.

The survey asks 10 general questions about a bribe, such as where and what kind of person requested it.

In addition, the survey asks what the value of the bribe was and what form it was requested in, such as cash, gifts or travel.

Large global companies like Wal-Mart, UPS, Rolls-Royce and FedEx already have endorsed the program and encourage their employees to use BribeLine directly or through the corporation.

“The unique design of BribeLine — anonymous, no names and no investigation — should encourage employees to use it,” said Valli Baldassano, a partner at Fox Rothschild LLP in Philadelphia.

One question the survey does not ask is whether the bribe was actually paid.

“This is not a law-enforcement tool,” said Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace. “Submitting this information won’t result in sanctions or legal action,” she said.

Mrs. Wrage said the system does not intend to track down or confirm the reports because its primary focus is to identify general trends.

The creators of the new system concede it isn’t perfect. Mrs. Gavin said people could conceivably file false claims of bribery to skew the report’s statistical accuracy.

Bribery watchdogs say any effect would be negligible.

“Nothing is perfect,” said Stephen Canner, vice president of investment and financial services at the U.S. Council for International Business in the District.

“But it is the best we have and hopefully this will be developed into a good product for battling corruption.”

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