Corruption is a big issue internationally, not just from an ethics point of view but also economically. The UN says that every year around the globe over US$1tn is paid in bribes and a further US$2.6tn is stolen or goes missing as a result of corruption. That’s over 5% of global GDP.
Corruption negatively affects funding for education and health services, not to mention damaging the fabric of entire communities, according to UN papers. It suppresses economic growth, increases the cost of doing business, reduces foreign investment, turns away talent and undercuts the rule of law and the respect for human rights.
It’s no wonder the UN sees corruption as a serious societal illness and is doing all it can to stamp out bribery, fraud, exploitation and more. It’s also not just about developing nations. Fraud in the healthcare sectors of developed countries, for instance, has been estimated to cost governments between US$12bn and $23bn annually.
Australia only managed to rank 13th on Transparency International’s global corruption ladder (Denmark, New Zealand and Finland topped the list as the least corrupt / most transparent nations).
Who can lead the battle?
The accounting industry is in the perfect position to assist in the front-line battle against corruption. The ICAS Power of One initiative has placed ethical leadership front and centre in its bid to rebuild trust in business via the influence and behaviour of thousands of members globally.
But what does this mean, on a practical level, to accountants during their working days?
“To me, it’s firstly about highlighting the professional approach that we all signed up to when we became members of ICAS,” said executive mentor and CA Australia ambassador Graeme Reid, Director of GMR Executive Coaching.
“We are in a position to witness corruption more often because our work involves the financial aspect. We’re more likely to come into contact with corrupt practices, to recognise corruption or to be put under pressure to do something that we’re not comfortable with. When that happens, what we do next is of enormous importance to our own reputations and to our communities.”
The next step is about moral courage, defined as “the ability to exhibit fortitude and a constant determination to exert professional scepticism. This includes challenging others who are behaving inappropriately, and to resist the exploitation of professional opportunity for private benefit rather than the public interest.”
Graeme emphasised that ICAS members need to have a willingness to speak out as part of their DNA and to take the correct steps when they recognise wrongdoing.
What are the steps to anti-corruption?
Sometimes, said Graeme, it is about reaching out to people within ICAS for guidance and advice. Often it involves recognising that in fact there are several potential ways to seek help, and that success comes from choosing the right one.
He questioned: “When you’re being put under pressure to do something you’re not comfortable with, even when the management team around you is comfortable, what are some good next steps?
“First of all, within ICAS there is the executive team in Edinburgh and there are other members in your country, as well as your country’s CA ambassadors. There are always people you can reach out to who will lend an ear and provide some advice so you’re not on your own trying to make sense of what is sometimes a very difficult situation. Being able to reach out to an organisation that can stand beside you in those circumstances is very powerful.”
Is being far from ‘home’ too dividing for these issues?
For an ICAS member in Australia, the problem can be compounded by what is likely already a feeling of isolation, said Graeme. Being away from family and friends means fewer personal touchpoints and, as a result, less people to talk to about the predicament.
“Think about whether there are paths within the organisation to take your concerns,” he said. “Do you feel comfortable going above the person you’ve got concerns about to have a discussion? Try to figure out what’s the best pathway to address the concern within the company first, because many organisations have significant integrity and don’t want to see corrupt practices within their ranks. If there is no pathway then reach outside the organisation.
“You’ve got to be very courageous when you make that stand. You have to think about how you take the conversation forward and who you take your concerns to. This is important because it’s not generally something you can solve on your own. That’s what the Power of One is all about.”
Chris Sheedy is a freelance writer.
This article was originally published in CA Today.