On Participation of the Private Sector, Civil Society, and Media in Efforts to Prevent and Combat Corruption and Enhance Good Governance

OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum (USOSCE)

On Participation of the Private Sector, Civil Society, and Media in Efforts to Prevent and Combat Corruption and Enhance Good Governance

As delivered by Barry Fullerton, Acting Director of the Office of Global Programs and Policy, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State,
to the Economic and  Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting, Vienna, 
October 18, 2021

Good afternoon, Madam Moderator.   

 It is a pleasure to be with you here today.  As you heard earlier this morning from my colleagues, the Biden Administration has established the fight against corruption as a core United States national security interest and has prioritized preventing and combating corruption at home and abroad.  

Our government is focused on many aspects of this challenge across multiple agencies and different levels and branches of government.  I am joining you today to discuss more specifically how we engage with the private sector, the media, and civil society to implement anticorruption commitments at home and how we recognize and promote their role in our policies abroad.   

I’ll say at the outset that the private sector is one of the most important stakeholders in the fight against corruption and a critical partner.  Governments too frequently see companies as the perpetrators of corruption rather than allies in the fight against it.  This narrow perspective means we are missing out on the expertise, resources, and innovation the private sector can bring. 

The United States is leading the way on how to engage with the private sector in our anticorruption efforts; in an attempt to illustrate our general approach to this issue set, I’ll highlight three of  our many specific ways we handle this challenge.   

 The first example of this engagement is in the field of anti-money laundering.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury routinely engages with public and private sector practitioners and leaders, both domestic and international, across the full spectrum of money laundering and terrorist financing issues.  This includes multilateral and bilateral public-private sector dialogues with key jurisdictions and regions.  

These dialogues, which usually include representatives from central banks, ministries of finance, banking regulators and supervisors, and financial institutions, have fostered frank discussions on difficult topics.  They have helped both sides learn from the other, dispel misunderstandings, clarify issues, provide information on risks and vulnerabilities the sector is facing, and overcome challenges.    

Second, we also have partnered with the private sector to promote stronger business ethics.  For example, in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the U.S. Departments of Commerce and State worked with other APEC economies and partners in the business community on an initiative to share best practices and novel government strategies to encourage ethical business practices.  This initiative recognizes the simple truth:  supporting the private sector to prevent corruption from occurring in the first place means governments can spend less time prosecuting and sanctioning natural and legal persons.   

Third, the United States has worked to turn the private sector into partners in preventing foreign bribery.  For example, U.S. prosecutors will consider if a company has an antibribery compliance program in place when determining the appropriate sanction in a foreign bribery case.  Companies that have put such programs in place – in other words acted in good faith to try to prevent company officers from engaging in graft – typically face less severe penalties should their employees engage in acts of bribery.  This incentivizes companies to put in place strong compliance programs, thereby helping prevent corruption from occurring in the first place. 

 In addition to engaging the private sector, our efforts should help to promote meaningful civil society engagement in governmental anticorruption efforts, as well as protect these organizations and individual whistle-blowers and journalists who expose corruption.  These stakeholders are critical to anticorruption efforts, including by providing information for potential sanctions and visa restriction designations, sharing corruption trends on the ground, and helping us build capacity and advocate for justice.  Without reliable reporting on corrupt actors and practices from civil society organizations and journalists, our efforts would be far more difficult, if not impossible.  If you talk to U.S. investigators and prosecutors, they will tell you that they welcome the leads and information uncovered by citizens, non-governmental groups, and journalists. They find those leads indispensable and the starting point for some of their most important cases. 

The political declaration adopted at June’s UN General Assembly Special Session underscored this point with all Member States committing to provide the conditions for civil society to effectively contribute to achieving the objectives of the UN Convention against Corruption.  This includes ensuring these non-government stakeholders can operate independently and without fear of reprisal because of their efforts.  

The political declaration also committed all UN Members to ensure protections are in place for journalists and whistleblowers.  This commitment made sure protections do not only apply to investigating and prosecuting violence against journalists after it occurs, but also providing a safe and adequate environment to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. 

The United States is working to provide platforms to leverage the expertise and skills of the private sector and civil society in anticorruption forums, including President Biden’s Summit for Democracy that will be convened December 9-10.  The Summit is envisioned as a multistakeholder initiative, and will include roles for representatives of the private sector, civil society, and philanthropies as important partners alongside governments.  

As I have described, we recognize the necessity of including the private sector, the media, and civil society in our approach to combating corruption and meeting our own commitments, but we also believe their contributions and role should be acknowledged more broadly and in multilateral fora such as the OSCE.  We therefore applaud the organization’s focus on anticorruption and the substantive discussions and actions taken to date. 

For example, I recall the July 2020 OSCE Chairmanship High-Level Anti-Corruption Conference, the successful 2020 Ministerial Council decision on combating corruption, and the cross-dimensional meeting this past July.  Corruption poses a threat across the OSCE’s political-military, economic and environmental, and human dimensions of security.  The United States sees tremendous opportunity through the work of the Transnational Threats Department, the Office of the Coordinator of Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Special Representative for Combating Corruption, and OSCE Field Operations to synchronize efforts in the fight against corruption. 

In addition, just before this panel started, the United States and OSCE’s 26-member Group of Friends on the Environment co-sponsored a side event on women’s leadership in combating conservation crimes and associated corruption.  The event included representatives of several NGOs who provided their assessments of the impact of these intertwined challenges and the need for a comprehensive response. 

Madam Moderator,  

The United States firmly supports the OSCE’s active role to assist participating States in efforts to implement their anticorruption commitments.  Implementation and accountability are critical.   We know the OSCE has experience in training law enforcement, helping participating States develop and implement more effective anticorruption policies, engaging the private sector on business ethics, and promoting the role of journalists and civil society. 

In this regard, we will continue to work with the Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA) to extend technical assistance to participating States, at their request, through our voluntary contributions to extrabudgetary projects and hope to expand that assistance in the future. 

We are eager to continue our important work together on projects that build capacity regarding the full asset recovery cycle; encourage open data use in government; promote municipal good governance and transparency; and combat money laundering.  More broadly, we will continue to support and bring greater focus to the OSCE’s cross-dimensional efforts to promote good governance by strengthening legal frameworks, building the capacity of public officials, empowering civil society, and respecting the role of independent media.   

The United States remains focused on meeting its own commitments in these areas and pursuing effective partnerships with the private sector and civil society organizations.  We encourage other participating States to do the same and stand ready to assist them at their request in doing so. 

Thank you, Madam Moderator.