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Is Bribery Acceptable To People Abroad?

 What do people abroad really think about bribery? Do the people of Mexico, for example, agree with claims that bribery is OK there because it’s the local custom?

A peek into the minds of folks living in cultures struggling with corruption can be found in a fascinating opinion survey by Juan Camilo Plata of the Latin American Public Opinion Project and published by Vanderbilt University [pdf here].

“To Bribe or Not To Bribe” shows considerable variation between Latin American cultures. The most bribe-tolerant are Guyana and Haiti, where 32% – 33% of people think “given the way things are, it is sometimes justifiable to pay a bribe.”  But that means 67% – 68% apparently do not think bribery is OK even given the current problems.

In Mexico, the poll taken before the Walmart scandal shows 22% justifying bribery, which leaves 79% rejecting it. Brazil, Chile and Guatemala have a very low tolerance for bribery, in the 7% range (93% rejecting it).

Bribery by foreigners is less acceptable, according to Plata’s research. These survey statistics are for local people bribing local officials. Even bribe justifiers are offended by foreigners bribing their government officials.

Which people are more likely to think domestic bribery is justified? The data show that male, young, urban citizens are more likely to justify bribery. 

Americans and Brits claiming that “those foreigners” accept bribery should be measured against this and other data showing that while bribery may be common, it is not acceptable -- not even in Mexico.

The next time an official or intermediary claims bribery is customary and necessary to do business, consider the source. Self serving claims of customary bribe practices should be met with healthy skepticism, not naive acceptance.


Elizabeth K. Spahn is a professor at New England Law Boston, where she's been on the faculty since 1978. She can be contacted here.

Reader Comments (2)

Fair point, but the next questions to the same people should be do they/have they bribed officials in the past and would they do it again to get out of trouble?

I live and work in West Africa and while most locals are frustrated,even angered at the scale of corruption, most would not think twice about paying a bribe to get out of trouble or even smooth the course of their day-to-day activities.
May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Morris
I agree with James. Even though the statistics show more people in those countries are against bribes, they would still accept them. Same in US, UK and other areas. We have all these great regulations in place, but there is no stopping those who are keen on getting good business..
May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosephine Treurniet

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