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  • Ezekiel Ward

Corruption hits the poorest hardest… what demanding rich kids teach us about anti-corruption work

Did you ever read about children from families of different socio-economic backgrounds who behaved differently when put into certain situations - like being at the doctor’s office? Those situations where they needed to be proactive, speak out, convince or challenge a figure of authority to get that to which they were entitled? Malcolm Gladwell summed up his thoughts on these children in his 2008 book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’.


It turned out that ‘wealthier’ children were much better at it (the proactivity, the speaking out, the convincing and the challenging). They knew what they were entitled to and were not shy in demanding it. Maybe they had been taught to do this, maybe they had observed their parents doing the same.


I wonder if we see this dynamic in anti-corruption work.


Corruption is intimately linked to poverty. It is widely accepted that it hits the poorest hardest. A Transparency International (TI) survey estimated that more than a quarter of people had paid a bribe to access public services in Asia in the past year. 38% of the poorest respondents (the highest among any grouping that TI spoke with) said they had paid a bribe. A third of respondents said that the police had demanded bribes. This is useful but worrying data. Presumably many more bribes were demanded or went unpaid than were reported to TI. And real damage would have resulted from these hidden crimes.


Corruption and its effects are often hidden, and this means that the victims oftentimes don't even realize they are victims. Who knows where the money went from a lucrative government military contract? Certainly not the poorest taxpayers! Why have the same roadworks been going on for nearly a decade? Does the mayor know the people behind construction company? Why did I have to pay five dollars to get my permit stamped? Was it really an official payment? We didn’t have enough to get my sister’s documents stamped too – she had to stay behind.


Even if the victims did realize, they don't have a voice, nor do they have a framework for demanding their rights. Access to justice costs money and requires knowledge of bureaucracy. These barriers are especially difficult to overcome if the police (sadly so often the case) are the ones demanding the bribes. And even worse if the demands are coupled with violence…


How we think about poverty requires empathy. Stunted thinking concludes that the poorest don't deserve any - "they're poor because they make bad decisions!" No, no, no. The poor make bad decisions because they are poor. You take on several jobs to pay the bills. You purchase the low quality product because there isn't any money left over. You delay paying your rent because you simply cannot pay. You skip the hospital visit because it costs too much. You leave school underage because there's paid work to be done, no matter how badly compensated. 


These are the people hurt most by corrupt human beings, corrupt companies and corrupt systems.


Education seems important in allowing people to identify corruption and its effects, and to assert our rights.


We train thousands of employees, contractors and business partners every year in our ethics and compliance standards. Our hope is that each of them will act as ambassadors for these shared human values wherever they are. 

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