Belgians aren't concerned enough about corruption in the workplace

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Brussels, 20 April 2017 - Belgian employees have very little concern about unethical practices within their own company. This was revealed in the 15th edition of the EMEIA Fraud Survey conducted by EY. This stands in stark contrast to the overall results which show that more than half of respondents perceive that unethical behaviour and corruption are widespread and more than three quarters of board members and senior management state that they could tolerate unethical behaviour if it would help the company to survive.

The EMEIA Fraud Survey 2017, in which 4,100 employees from 41 countries were surveyed, shows that the climate in which companies operate is becoming increasingly uncertain – a consequence of worldwide political instability and sluggish growth – and is forcing company managers to seek new ways to achieve their financial objectives. In such circumstances, the threshold for unethical behaviour may be lower.

In comparison to respondents from other Western European countries, Belgian employees were less willing to behave unethically to promote their own career or their company’s results. Only 4% of Belgian respondents found it acceptable to offer cash payments to attract or maintain commercial activities if this would help the company to survive (on average 11% in developed countries, and 22% in growth markets).

Belgian respondents also noted few abuses among their colleagues; around 65% reported that they have never received information or had concerns about potential fraud or corruption within their own company (compared to 48% of all respondents).

An underestimated problem?

Whether the Belgians are actually among the best pupils in the class in terms of business ethics is doubtful. More than one in three Belgian respondents (36%) is convinced that fraud and corruption occur regularly in business. This figure is in line with, and even a little higher than the average in Western European countries (33%). It seems rather that Belgian participants in the research tend to underestimate the phenomenon of corruption within their own company.

It’s certainly true that companies in Belgium are making inadequate efforts to raise awareness among their employees about unethical practices. Only 4% of Belgian respondents are aware of the existence of hotlines for whistleblowers, which can be used to report possible abuses; a figure significantly lower than the average in Western Europe (19%) and in growth countries (22%).

‘In other words, Belgian companies and authorities still have a long way to go to lower the threshold for whistleblowers and make employees aware of the importance of reporting unethical behaviour. It’s important for companies to actively encourage their employees to act appropriately and report any infringements’, says Frederik Verhasselt, Fraud, Investigation & Dispute Services partner at EY in Belgium.

25- to 34-year-olds are more prepared to behave unethically than any other age group

One in four people between the ages of 25 and 34 (generation Y) is prepared to pay bribes to attract business, compared to 14% of all respondents together. What’s more, 73% of 25 to 34-year-olds are prepared to behave unethically in the interests of the company or in the interests of their own career.

Frederik Verhasselt calls this development ‘alarming, given that this generation is the future of business. If companies don't take action against unethical behaviour at all levels of the company now, then there’s a chance that this sort of behaviour will increase in the future.’

Focussing on technology to detect misconduct earlier

EY also indicates that employees’ loyalty lies increasingly with their own business unit and their personal gain, rather than with the company as a whole. Combined with a rapidly changing business environment through progressive digitisation and automation, this creates a situation in which, according to EY, companies must use new methods in order to identify and fight undesirable behaviour.

As well as raising the awareness of employees to prevent unethical behaviour and where necessary report it, it’s important to use technology to fight ethically unacceptable behaviour. ‘Increasing globalisation means that companies are becoming more vulnerable to theft or manipulation, also from their own staff. This is why companies would be well advised to make more use of the latest technologies to monitor data circulating within the company, and detect potential misconduct more quickly’, concludes Frederik Verhasselt.