The following is a post by Tom Coyner a Senior Adviser to IPG.
Perhaps in a few warped ways, I have a bit of affection for the
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies from
bribing officials overseas.
From a nostalgic perspective, I recall when this act was made into
law while I was at my first “real job” at The Chase Manhattan Bank in
Seoul. The immediate reactions around me in the US business community
were those of dread. We were certain that we would be put to
disadvantage when competing with the locals as well as with other
foreign nationalities. It turned out not to be the case. In fact, by
and large we discovered the act gave us legitimate cover not to “go
local” in conducting unethical and potentially sordid business
In time, other Western nations passed similar laws. While this clean
business movement has hardly eradicated corruption, it has contributed
to reducing unethical business behavior – most notably among large
multinational corporations. It now seems the smaller and more local the
business entity, the greater the likelihood for kickbacks, bribes, etc.
– usually more with corresponding local governments or other small-time
In Korea, the Big Boys in business really don’t have to resort to
bribes at the same levels as they once did. The biggest players pay
their top managers well enough and these companies can command (squeeze)
price concessions without needing in most cases to risk legal jeopardy.
Recently someone was passing around on the Internet a “Korea business
unmasked”-type English language tips on doing business here – many of
which suggested the wisdom of bribes, etc. I would guess that person
has not been doing business long enough or perhaps operates on a small
enough scale to avoid getting him or herself entangled in the law so
far. Perhaps I should have passed on those suggestions. I might have
been able to drum up some new business for a lawyer buddy of mine.
In any case, while some business continues to be done unethically, we
should remind ourselves that ethics are not morals based on some kind
of religious foundation. Rather, ethics are based on accumulated wisdom
based on the centuries’ observations of what is likely to succeed and
what is almost certain to fail – in the end.
As such, many of my friends & colleagues and I have reputations
of being straight arrows when it comes to doing business. Again, it is
not because we are so moral (we probably are not!), but it is because we
are a bit street wiser than those business folks who are too often
cutting corners and getting away with it – for now.
A Wall Street Journal article on this issue can be found at: With Wal-Mart Claims, Greater Attention on a Law
Sean Hayes may be contacted at: SeanHayes@ipglegal.com.
Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.