“Shoulder to shoulder against corruption”

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Logo Anti-Corruption Day

The United Nations set up the International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003. The picture shows this year’s motif and slogan.

December 9 is Anti-Corruption Day. The Deutsche Telekom Board of Management is taking a firm stance against corruption. Deutsche Telekom Chief Compliance Officer Manuela Mackert and anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth explain in an interview why transparency and openness in the business are a good recipe for success.

Mark Pieth and Manuela Mackert

Mark Pieth and Manuela Mackert.

Ms. Mackert, Mr. Pieth, what does the Anti-Corruption Day mean for you?

Manuela Mackert: I think it is great that today, throughout the Group, we are again spotlighting the fight against corruption, that the Board of Management is taking a firm stance against corruption and is clearly setting out its position, for instance with an e-mail to employees.

Mark Pieth: I agree wholeheartedly. This kind of campaign day allows us to focus on a delicate issue. That is why we are also talking about it today. An anti-corruption year would of course be better than an anti-corruption day.

Ms. Mackert, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, employees will be wondering where corruption actually starts.

Manuela Mackert: Corruption includes taking or offering bribes, and accepting or granting unfair advantages. Kickbacks are a clear case of corruption, but accepting or granting gifts and invitations can also be problematic.

Sounds dry and complicated …

Manuela Mackert: Gifts or invitations are not banned per se. At Deutsche Telekom there are clear rules and limits within which we can all act. 

Mr. Pieth, you have already worked for various agencies and organizations as an anti-corruption expert. What is your take on corruption?

Mark Pieth: First, it is important for a business to clearly communicate where the limits lie. For me it is also relevant to understand that corruption is a tool for acquiring and retaining power. So anyone that is offered generous gifts should always ask themselves what the purpose behind such gifts actually is.

Imagine you had unlimited power, how would you set about preventing corruption?

Mark Pieth: Through transparency and openness. In the case of businesses for instance, the transparency of economic ties, everything from its financial flows through to its culture. If we create a general understanding of what is acceptable and what not, and if it becomes clearer that we do not tolerate corruption, then you have fewer and fewer niches left to exploit.

As chair of the independent governance committee at FIFA you were tasked with helping the organization become more trustworthy. You threw in the towel because you sensed resistance to reform. How would it be possible for such a huge entity to identify and combat corruption?

Mark Pieth: Actually it would be not that difficult at FIFA. The association is extremely top-down organized. It is no coincidence then that we refer to a sports pyramid. If the top managed to take a decisive stance against corruption, then you would systematically be able to tackle corruption at all levels of the pyramid.

Manuela Mackert: At Deutsche Telekom we launched a campaign on the speak-up culture as well as the Transparent Company Culture initiative. Employees should be sure that every tip-off regarding corruption is valuable and helps the business develop. This calls for a culture which encourages employees to be brave enough to provide tip-offs.

Mark Pieth: I would like to congratulate you on these activities. That way you build on what we have just said, namely that every day should be an anti-corruption day. Or at least provide scope for debate about corruption. This kind of campaign will only actually work with firm support from senior management.

What do businesses need to do to combat corruption?

Mark Pieth: Most are now convinced that they need to raise employee awareness and to promote the internal debate about right and wrong. Yet a great many of them are in a difficult position. Lessons learned are almost impossible to apply in difficult markets; often, you cannot do business without bribery. We need to find ways of preventing this.

For instance?

Mark Pieth: By having everyone stand shoulder to shoulder. Small and mid-size enterprises in particular have great difficulty surviving with an ethical approach in difficult international markets. And they cannot turn to heads of state or ministers either. But if they join forces and stand together, they can exercise more influence.

Manuela Mackert: I am also firmly convinced that closing ranks is the only way of making corruption much more difficult and uncovering it sooner.