Living in fear: corruption threatens employees | Economy | DW

Dominic French * has hardly been performing in public for over two years. The world he lives with his Filipino wife and three children is a house with a small garden in a remote region of the Philippines. “We’ve gotten pretty good at hiding,” DW said in a video interview.

The house is registered to be a wife, children learn only on online courses, the only trip the family took in recent months was an afterburner expedition in May, wearing masks and driving a car with tinted windows. They are now depressed and exhausted. The psychologist diagnosed my wife and children with post-traumatic stress disorder. “We can’t go on,” said French. This is not life.

The only witness to the bribe

The French is convinced that his life is in danger. He is the only witness to a bribe purportedly committed by his former employer, Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, in 2008.

It is believed that a Filipino politician with good connections and an influential businessman are involved in this crime. Both people were named DW by the French, but are not listed here to protect his safety. The French also presented evidence that other employees were afraid of the businessman. Neither of them wanted to comment on this article. The politician enjoys a nationwide reputation.

Apparently, the businessman bribed the politician with a luxury trip to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This potentially gave OHS an advantage in the mining license dispute. The mining company withdrew from bribery, but only after a court ruling in favor of the company.

A Bribe Gift: Trip to the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics

Life-threatening corruption

The French has reasons to worry about his life. In 2007, while he was still in OSH, a security adviser at the Australian embassy told him that there were credible “ransom threats” against him and other OSH workers. Then, in 2015, as the bribery plot became public, suspicious white vans and unidentified motorcyclists appeared outside French’s house. This is a good reason for suspicion as kidnappings in the Philippines are “widespread and mostly for criminal purposes,” according to the U.S. Government’s 2021 Human Rights Report.

The mining company, BHP, says it is aware of the risk, and the safety of its employees is a “top priority”: “In our global operations, we have dedicated compliance, safety and security teams to support all our employees and give them advice and guidance on a variety of issues.” , including bribery and corruption, the company said in a statement to DW. “We have also created several channels – including an anonymous helpline – to encourage and assist in raising any concerns.”

There are no clear guidelines for dealing with corruption

However, according to Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International Australia, leaders like the French are often insufficiently prepared to deal with these problems. “There is a mismatch between” Oh, we want to protect our employees “and” We don’t necessarily want to talk about how we are slapped on the back for paying bribes in so many countries. ” said DW. “They don’t want it to become public and they prefer to sacrifice their employees.”

French thinks he’s one of those dedicated employees. He believes that corruption is a “chronic” risk that affects all multinationals operating in certain countries. “Companies don’t have a clear approach to dealing with corruption,” he says. In such an environment, says Lillywhite, it is implicitly clear to all: “bribes will be paid.”

Western companies face a dilemma: they must comply with compliance standards, and if they want to operate in the US as well, they cannot bribe anyone abroad under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. On the other hand, companies also want to operate in countries where corruption is part of everyday life. And leaders like the French are often on the front lines.

Australia Nickel Mine at Ravensthorpe by BHP Billiton.

In many countries, bribes are still often paid to do business

“It’s a very confusing thing,” Lillywhite said. “Often there are only one or two directors who travel to the country, for example to obtain an operating license.” They are often dependent on external mediators who usually have good political connections. Western companies are prone to corruption. “In addition, companies are not properly educating their employees to avoid bribery,” said Lillywhite.

The SEC condemns bribery

French’s story began in 2007 when he was in the Philippines to investigate the aforementioned businessman who was allegedly involved in bribery. “He told me in a serious voice: ‘People are killed in the Philippines if they ask such questions,’ recalls the French. “He wasn’t kidding. He was very frustrated. “

French said he was not aware at the time that BHP was allegedly involved in a plan to bribe Southeast Asian government officials and facilitated their visit to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) later investigated the matter and filed a motion to discontinue operations in 2015.

“BHP Billiton paid for the participation of foreign government officials in the Olympics to help the company do business or deal with government officials,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement department at the time. In another settlement in which BHP paid the SEC a $ 25 million fine, the company neither admitted nor denied the findings.

Escape of the French

The French saw himself in danger due to reports at the time. Bribes are now common knowledge, and Filipino prosecutors could decide at any time to open an investigation into the businessman and politician. Therefore, the French decided to leave the country.

Although he was no longer employed by BHP, BHP offered him a leave agreement in July 2019. He said the company would provide “assistance in obtaining the necessary visas and entry permits, including the assumption of the associated costs.” According to the French, this meant a “golden visa”, including the required investment of € 500,000 ($ 511,400) in the chosen country of a French family, Spain.

U-turn by health and safety

But a few months later, in September 2019, when the Frenchman and his family were on their way, BHP changed the contract. Only a lump sum of $ 45,000 was paid and BHP considered the matter settled.

The French was in a difficult position: he didn’t sign a second contract, but accepted $ 45,000 to pay for the family’s relocation for several months. However, upon arriving in Spain, the revised treaty actually made him an illegal immigrant, with no chance of receiving the visas promised to him. Eventually, he was forced to return to the Philippines with his family and go into hiding.

Health and Safety at work denies the withdrawal of any aid. “BHP has not withdrawn from the contract with you [French] distant. Together, we agreed on a package that Mr. [French] and his family provides immigration and relocation assistance – such assistance has been provided in full, ”the company said in a statement. [French] When he decided to take direct responsibility for his move and his family, we also paid an extra lump sum to help him make his decision.

Corruption remains a big problem

Whatever happens to the French now, the problem of corruption will remain. Especially as OHS and other mining companies are moving away from fossil fuels towards rare metals, which are essential in many renewable energy technologies. To do this, however, they must increasingly engage in countries where bribery is common. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies 70 percent of the world’s cobalt needed to make electric car batteries.

“Most of the key minerals needed for the energy transition are found in corrupt countries,” said Lillywhite. “34 percent of the lithium needed to make batteries is found in countries prone to corruption. Ninety-four percent of all the rare earths known to us today are in countries prone to corruption. ‘

This makes the question of how well the managers of these companies prepare and protect their employees for work in high-risk countries all the more urgent.

* Dominic French is a legal name in Australia, though not the one by which the protagonist is commonly known. At the request of the French, the latter was not used in this article to avoid jeopardizing his safety.

The article has been adapted from the English language.

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