ASEAN is currently focused on the impending establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015. The blueprints for regional economic, political-security and socio-cultural community integration, adopted by ASEAN leaders in 2009, provides a roadmap to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable socio-economic development.
Needless to say, the success of ASEAN integration relies heavily on the success of ASEAN countries in meeting numerous challenges head-on, with curbing corruption a top priority. Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery, is considered systematic in ASEAN. Corruption deprives the poor from receiving proper public services, discourages foreign aid and investment, and undermines many governments’ ability to govern, exaggerating inequality and poverty.
For the private sector, corruption adds up to 10% of the total cost of doing business, and up to 25% of the cost of procurement contracts in developing countries where most ASEAN countries are classified. Corruption distorts market mechanisms, prevents fair competition, exposes businesses to legal and reputational risks, and erodes public investor trust and confidence. And while calls on governments to address the problem of corruption are getting louder, there is also an increasingly important role for the business community to play.
The ASEAN Social-Cultural Community Blueprint identifies promoting corporate social responsibility as a key strategy in achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. ASEAN recognizes the positive role that business can play and how it can be a part of the solution, including in the battle against corruption. This is why the Regional Working Group on Business Integrity has come together. Envisioning a corruption free ASEAN, we aim to promote and achieve the highest standard of business integrity through collective action on advocacy and capacity-building, contributing towards a more sustainable, equitable, competitive, and inclusive ASEAN community.
"Integrity Has No Borders" is an advocacy campaign that aims to create an enabling environment for companies to say “No” to corruption and bribery, regardless of where they are in ASEAN, to pave the way for shared growth and progress. This campaign is guided by the principle that “businesses must work against corruption in all forms, including extortion and bribery” (UNGC’s 10th Principle) because corruption puts great costs not only on a company’s corporate reputation, but also the perception and competitiveness of the nation and region as a whole. The Regional Working Group believes that by embracing integrity as a shared corporate value, the ASEAN business community can collectively dispel the view that corruption is part of the ASEAN business culture, thus building a sustainable, equitable, competitive and inclusive region. This campaign is spearheaded the Regional Working Group on Business Integrity and supported by United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office (UKFCO)
At times, businesses are unable to avoid bribery and other circumstances of corruption because businesses feel that there is no alternative to forwarding their business interests efficiently and effectively. This is why the Regional Working Group strives to support one another and maximize its resources in expanding knowledge and building capacity to combat corruption in line with internationally accepted standards and norms. Capacity building activities will include the sharing of best practices and technical resources, providing opportunities for information sharing and knowledge transfer, and organizing training sessions on relevant skills and strategies.
No single individual or entity can solve corruption. Corruption in ASEAN has become so systemic that many even claim that it is ingrained in the cultural norms and expectations of doing business in the region. Corruption is not just a local problem but a regional one impeding the success of regional trade and investment, and this fact will become more apparent with the coming integration.
Although governments take the lead in the anti-corruption crusade in ASEAN, long-term success of this advocacy requires complementing efforts from other stakeholders, especially businesses. While businesses can individually take proactive steps to counter corruption, they can be more effective by engaging in collective action. With this in mind, the members of the Regional Working Group have come together to form an alliance to strengthen the voice, impact, and credibility of advocates for integrity.
The Working Group aims to move its members towards harmonized, and eventually standardized, integrity programs. Harmonized programs have the added benefit of being comparable, presenting opportunities for benchmarking and best practices adaption. Also, moving forward towards more harmonized and standardized programs can be in the long-term open opportunities for mutual recognition of integrity pledges and certification across ASEAN.