The Corner House filed a complaint against BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, and Airbus alleging that the companies had breached the Guidelines by refusing to disclose when requested the names of their agents to the UKs export credit agency (ECGD). Agents are a common route through which bribes are channelled.
The complaint noted that in 2004, ECGD introduced new anti-corruption measures that required companies to provide information about the agents they use in ECGD-backed transactions, including how much they are paid in commission.
The complaint alleged that the companies had refused to comply with the ECGDs requirements to supply the names of agents, claiming the information was confidential. Despite assurances that the information would not be publicly disclosed, the companies continued to rebuff ECGD. In the end, the companies were assured by the ECGD that the new policy would not apply to them.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
The UK NCP accepted the complaint in May 2005, and forwarded it to the companies for comment. The cases were subsequently put on hold pending the outcome of a public consultation initiated by the ECGD on its anti-corruption measures. The complaint against Airbus was referred to the French NCP, but action was suspended in August 2005 because the ECGD had allegedly engaged in consultation about payments through agents.
In September 2009, the UK NCP wrote to the Corner House to explain that the case had apparently been lost by the NCP due to staff changes. The NCP apologized and stated that it had only become aware of the case after reviewing OECD Watch’s June 2009 submission to the OECD, which classified the case as “blocked”.
The case was reactivated in December 2009 when the complainants confirmed they wished to pursue the case. The NCP offered to mediate a meeting between the parties, but the companies rejected the offer. The NCP therefore moved to determine the validity of the accusations in the complaint and asked the parties to submit written positions.
In November 2010, the NCP closed the case and issued a final statement. The NCP noted that commercial confidentiality cannot be used by corporations as a reason for refusing to supply the names of their agents when requested by competent authorities. According to the NCP, all three companies would therefore have been in breach of the Guidelines if they had refused to disclose the names of their agents when requesting financial support from ECGD. The NCP determined that there is evidence that the companies may have refused to supply the names of their agents to ECGD when making an application for support. However, the NCP could not verify this because ECGD does not keep a record of applications and has destroyed all documents relating to withdrawn applications. The NCP therefore concluded that it was unable to determine whether or not the companies had breached the Guidelines.