Doing “business” in Asia
Perth, 29th March 2010
Today 4 executives from Rio Tinto (an Australian mining company) have been convicted in China to hefty jail terms and penalties for taking bribes and stealing “trade secrets”. While the court hearings about the bribes were public, the hearings on the trade secrets were done behind close doors, giving little away on what is considered as a trade secret. The foreign executive (Stern Hu) admitted taking bribes close to U$ 1 million.
The trials have been closely watched by the international business community active in China as many foreign companies are confronted with similar issues. When doing business in Asia, often “project brokers” get involved, wanting a fee for introducing and recommending you to new business clients, sometimes evenpromising you they will get you the project! It is a fine line between professional business development services and paying “bribes” to get your business. (PS: While Asia is renowned for “under table” practices, I have no illusion that it is happening throughout the world). Doing business in Asia as a lighting designer is therefore tantamount to exposing yourself to these practices and it is not easy to reject the prospect of a new project at good fees knowing it just means paying of a “deal maker”.
Taking it a step further; is wining and dining considered a bribe or just bonding with your new potential client? While cash payments are more clear cut, entertaining or providing “gifts” may be a vaguer territory, certainly if the people involved are friends. But then.. how do you define friends? Do real friends in business…exist?
It is a very sensitive issue hardly ever spoken about in public, but hard to deny it is not happening, with the Rio Tinto court case being a point in case.