Reasons to work collectively to tackle corruption – International Anti-Corruption Day 9 Dec

By Cecilia Muller Torbrand, Executive Director, Maritime Anti-Corruption Network

Twenty years ago, a man was traveling down a coastline carrying a bag of cash and his job was to make sure shipping industry operations “worked smoothly.” Twenty years ago, foreign bribery was tax deductible, and the link between good governance and social economic development had not been fully recognized.

Twenty years later, it is recognized that corruption hampers trade, creates unfair opportunities, and numerous studies have shown that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) often suffer the most from corruption as they do not have the resources and capabilities to properly resist it.

The shipping industry’s attention is too often captured by new technology, and while there is no doubt this is part of our future, it provides for a convenient distraction over immediate challenges such as our ability to combat corruption and address the related risks that seafarers face daily:

“Port authorities threatened to delay the ship and fine us $60,000 for an error on the ships fuel declaration. Then he asked for $7,000 to help us have no problem.” Ship’s Captain

“Port authorities claimed to find cockroaches on board and threatened to fine the ship. For 10 cartons of cigarettes, we can make them go away.” Ship’s Captain

“Your passport visa and yellow fever vaccine certificate are not according to the rules and this is a fine of $ 10,000. Then he asked for $1000 to help us have no problem.” Ship’s Captain

With the inception of MACN ten years ago, the industry started to build capacity and around how to tackle the issue of corruption on an industry-wide collaborative basis, instead of working in silos. Fairly quickly, MACN found ways to get governments involved in finding constructive solutions. Today the industry can take pride in the practical and tangible tools MACN has developed to combat corruption and to demonstrate that it is possible to make progress through an inclusive model of engaging stakeholders through public private partnerships.

To support International Anti-Corruption Day, MACN is pleased to see the role senior leaders are playing to push for a corruption free ocean trade:

Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO: “The maritime industry is frequently exposed to the risk of corruption. Shipping is part of a vital multinational transport and logistics chain, delivering 11 billion tonnes of goods annually – including much-needed medicines and protective equipment during the pandemic. However, research has identified that seafarers may be subjected to corrupt demands, such as unlawful requests for payments to allow ships to enter and depart the port or disproportionate penalties applied for minor errors. This can lead to interruptions to normal operations, delaying ships and creating a risk to navigation and seafarer safety. The Maritime Anti-Corruption Network’s (MACN) anonymous reporting mechanism has collected close to 40,000 reports of corrupt demands globally.  This is most certainly a cause for concern.

 Why is it important for our industry to tackle corruption through collective action?

Soren Skou, CEO of A.P. Møller Mærsk A/S says: “Corruption is a global issue with significant impact on societies, economies, companies and individuals. We, at Maersk, and as a global logistics company, operating in many countries with high corruption exposure, play a significant role in shaping the agenda when it comes to fighting corruption. We initiated the “Say No to Corruption” campaign on our vessels in 2011. This led to the formation of the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network with Maersk as a founding member. Now MACN has more than 140 members from across the maritime industry all taking on the challenge of fighting corruption.”

Bjoerge Grimholt, President & CEO at Wilhelmsen Ships Service says: “Lack of transparency fuels corruption and, as such, we need to be more transparent and share experiences through a network of like-minded organisations to have a remote chance at starting to tackle this serious issue. Together, as an alliance, we will increase the impact and credibility of any individual action. This will in turn level the playing field between competitors.”

 Capt Rajesh Unni, Founder and CEO of Synergy Marine Group: “Corruption consistently endangers the morals of the entire world and not just our industry alone. It is a cancer and is our rightful duty to challenge it both individually and collectively to create an impartial, safer, and brighter future for the generations ahead. If we do not take a stand against it now, we are invariably supporting it and we will most certainly continue to fall victim to its damaging effects. Because of its rampant spread and deep rooted history over centuries in most aspects of our daily lives, the fight against corruption cannot be an individual effort, but needs to be a collective and altruistic effort by everyone in our industry looking to make the world a safer place.”   

Corruption has been around since the first moment humans created organized societies around 5,000 years ago. However, we do not have unlimited time on our side and resilient change is needed. In MACN’s 2019 International Anti-Corruption Day blog, we asked if we are winning or losing the battle – so are we?

In many ways we believe we are on the right track:

IMO and governments worldwide are recognizing the issue of corruption and how it hinders international trade. IMO’s Facilitation Committee addresses the ship/port interface and is currently working to develop guidance to implement and embrace anti-bribery and anti-corruption practices and procedures to assist all stakeholders in that interface.

MACN represents 50% of the worlds tonnage thus our collective voice is strong when engaging in dialogue with governments. Companies are no longer working on their own and progress has been made with creating a level playing field.

Governments and the shipping industry are addressing these issues through collective action and public-private partnership – it is recognized that efforts on both sides are needed to fight corruption.

It is essential we back the seafarers who operate our ships 24/7– the industry needs to empower seafarers to stand their ground when saying ‘NO’, and governments need to support and, in turn, empower their staff to act with integrity.

Only together we can reduce trade obstacles and improve port operations, which will enable a safe working environment for the seafarers, and we can incarnate better access to global markets for local businesses.