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Integrity and Business Ethics: Lessons learned From the Nordics

EuCham recently hosted the Business Integrity Forum CEE 2014 with the aim of raising awareness on preventing corruption and ensuring transparency and ethical conduct when doing business abroad.

During the conference, professionals from the public and private sector shared their experiences and opinions on the topic. This transfer of knowledge gave participants the ability to learn from others and will help shape their mindset when conducting future business activities. Discussions about formulating anti-corruption and anti-bribery strategies also took place.


Global efforts against corruption

Michele Orzan, President of EuCham, opened the conference by defining the concept of integrity and its impact on businesses. Since business activities are based on mutual trust, the application of the anti-corruption practices not only ensures a good reputation, but also provides financial benefits for all parties involved.

 

Krisztina Papp, manager of Transparency International Hungary, defined integrity as a key element in the process of sustainable development. Ms Papp drew attention to events such as the economic crisis, and the deepening impact of globalization and global economic interdependence, as the main reasons why integrity should become a highly accepted world trend. The speech contained the 12 principles of corporate governance introduced by the OECD, which serves as a unified platform both for member and non-member countries alike. Besides the OECD, the EU also makes serious efforts by the introduction of proposals for stricter capital requirements and better corporate governance for banks and investment firms. However, the active participation of companies is essential and their strategies concerning non-financial and diversity-related issues should be revealed, as along with anti-corruption strategies, to declare their commitment and enhance the business environment.

 

The President of TRACE, Alexandra Wrangel, spoke about the mission of an American non-profit initiative; which aims to increase commercial transparency and to reduce the risk of bribery. TRACE has two main components: TRACE International provides members with practices to avoid bribery while TRACE Incorporated guarantees customizable risk-based screening, training opportunities and consultancy services for both members and non-members. The organization focuses on implementing the best practices of multinational companies to SMEs to promote their development.

 

Business versus society?


The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 assessed Hungary as suffering from a lack of government transparency. Hungary received one of the lowest rankings, ranked 132 out of 148, while Finland and Sweden are in the top ten, ranked second and ninth, respectively.

 

What is the reason for this difference? It is a complex problem, which can be examined through consideration of various aspects. To begin, there are huge differences in the demographics: Nordic countries have a relatively low population density with a small group of political elite. They employ different methods for managing their social models as well: Nordic countries draw special attention to ensuring equal opportunities regarding income distribution and public education.

 

In spite of all their differences, there is a common point: gender equality. Like Hungary, Nordic countries also face challenges in this field. However, Nordic countries make serious efforts to match qualifications to jobs. The main goal for all Member States of the EU is to change the share of women in corporate boards by applying the EU’s initiative ‘Women on Boards’. All presenters drew attention to the great importance for changing the mindsets of policymakers and the public. Gender equality must be initiated at the community level as well, an issue which Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner Responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, always refers to in her speeches.


Ennobling tolerance towards minorities is another step for creating a fair and sustainable social model. Trust in government and business may reduce the risk of corruption and lay the foundations for a safer world. However, this type of model requires sacrifices on behalf of the citizens, where the government covers the expenses by levying huge tax burdens, like in Sweden for example. It is impossible to get a top ranking without introducing comprehensive government reforms and establishing a favorable business environment. What companies can and should do is set common principles and tools to improve efforts against corruption and bribery and shape the government policy with them.

 

Written and translated by Maria Vandlik

 

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