Why are bribes immoral? How can you tell if a payment made in a business transaction is a bribe or not?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A significant aspect of the difficulty in assessing the immoral nature of bribes lies in how one defines immorality. I think that using a basic standard to define immoral behavior can reveal how a bribe fits into its configuration.  Aristotle "saw many vices as excesses or deficits in relation to some virtue, as cowardice and rashness relate to courage."  In this light, bribery can be seen as immoral because it moves individuals away from virtuous behavior.  For example, bribery moves individuals away from honesty and acting in an honorable manner by seeking to exert undue influence.  In another light, bribery can be seen as immoral because it moves individuals away from the standard of equal opportunity and equal access. Bribery can be seen as immoral because of how its actions move individuals away from transcendent notions of virtuous behavior and moves them closer to the realm of vice.  In this way, I think that bribery can be deemed as immoral.

In terms of being able to identify if a bribe has been present in a business transaction, a basic definition might be a good starting point.  In this light, a bribe can be seen as the following:

a bribe is a payment, made by a third party to an agent of a principal, in which the agent explicitly or implicitly agrees to take an action that is contrary to his duty as an agent of the principal and is thus not in the interest of the principal.

From this standard understanding of a bribe, one can tell if a payment made in a business transaction is a bribe when action contrary to one's duty and not in the interest of the business individual has been undertaken.  For example, a bribe is evident when there is a direct promise and assurance of that promise, even it goes against the interest of the principal business party.  Sometimes, bribes can be evident in a business transaction because of a lack of transparency.  Terms like "services rendered" can be effective indicators of bribes having been offered because of their elusive and vague nature.  Since a bribe can be deemed as anything of value that lies outside the direct and stated interest of the principal, bribes can be delivered in the form of cash, promises of additional payment, or even gifts.  These are all examples of bribes and all examples of how bribes can be recognized in the business setting or in a business transaction.

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