Joseph Fouché (1759 – 1820) was Minister of Police under Napoleon Bonaparte and based on his experience he once told: “If it is said that a person in incorruptible, I ask myself involuntarily whether one has offered him enough.”

But it is really so easy? Could not be it just the other way around?

In most of cases temptation does not come directly with the suitcase full of money, but a rather small piece. This is similar the “foot-in-the-door technique.”[1] Its key-message, people are most likely to agree to a big request, if they get first asked for a small one.

A small request has in general an insignificant meaning for the individual, so that no detailed inner-personal decision making process gets started and a regarding action executed. For corruption this small request can be a facilitation payment or another low illegal payment. The problem can be solved with the help of some few Dollars. As the sum is insignificant for the potential payer, there starts no thinking about the side effects, as supporting corrupt infrastructure or committing a legal crime (as facilitation payments are illegal due to most local laws). The payer does not create a sense of guilt, as a simple “everybody does it” calms the individual.

Later on the way the employee can face a bigger request, as for example, a kick-back payment. Now the inner-personal decision making process gets activated and the individual collects all reasons for and against paying the bribe. One argument which comes up now, the memory that an illegal payment had been made before. Nothing happened, no legal consequence, nor did it seem that is has hurt someone. Due to the memory, the individual assumes that he or she has in general a positive attitude to bribe someone. This does not automatically lead to the decision to pay the higher bribe, but could be an important step to it.

As the risk is known, it is up to the company to implement counter measures. It must be clear to all employees, not only the typical Compliance risk groups, that there is zero tolerance for facilitation payments. Further, employees must understand which costs of corruption are behind even small bribes. With this knowledge the individual presents a higher involvement into the topic and even a request for a small illegal payment will trigger a detailed inner-personal decision making process.

Sources:

Freedman, J.L. / Fraser, S.C. (1966): “Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique”

Henz, Patrick (2015): “The Geometry of Business Ethics”

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