[Jason Webb Yackee is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin School of Law.]
It’s a pleasure to receive such thoughtful (and in Professor Wong’s case, humorous) feedback on my short VJIL Essay, and I greatly appreciate their engagement with the piece.
I intended the Essay to be provocative but not absurd in its policy recommendations. My main suggestion (that states should think seriously about incorporating “corruption defense” in their investment treaties) is, I think, not inconsistent with the views of either commenter. Neither is my more basic suggestion, which is that even in the absence of corruption-specific BIT language, the fact of an investor’s involvement in public corruption related to its investment is likely to be of legal relevance to the investor’s ability to fully access the procedural and substantive protections of BITs. In other words, I think that we would all probably agree that there is already a viable “corruption defense,” and also that it might be useful to better specify the contours of the defense through explicitly corruption-related treaty language.
Where we primarily differ is on the desirable contours of the defense. My scheme is self-consciously pro-state. It imposes serious consequences on the investor who engages in corruption. It is, as Professor Bjorklund accurately points out, supply-side in its focus, just as are the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and its non-U.S. equivalents. This supply-side focus bothers Professors Wong and Bjorklund. It seems unfair to them to exclusively punish investors when corruption, by its nature, takes two to tango. It doesn’t bother me as much to sanction one partner and not the other. My premise — unstated in the essay, I admit — is that the supplier of corruption (here, the investor) is probably in some meaningful sense the “least cost avoider” of corruption. The tort law equivalent is a liability regime that places the full cost of compliance on the person who throws a banana peel on the sidewalk, rather than on the inobservant pedestrian who slips on it and falls.
My sense (and it is just that at this point) is that it is comparatively difficult for developing countries already afflicted with corruption to prevent it, let alone to eradicate it. It is hard for states to monitor and control the actions of their agents, or to adjust incentive structures to discourage corruption. In contrast, corporations have an advantage in implementing effective training and compliance programs, in disciplining corporate actors who violate corruption laws, and in rewarding those who abide by corporate anti-corruption policy. Indeed, corporations are already spending heavily to implement effective corruption-prevention programs in order to avoid violations of or liability under the US and UK anti-bribery statutes, the penalties for violation of which can be immense. I would suggest, in effect, that the BIT regime should piggyback on these efforts by imposing on companies whose compliance systems fail the additional cost of the loss of their BIT privileges, rather than insisting that the high-cost avoider — the state — be expected to successfully duplicate the already expensive anti-corruption investments of multinational corporations.