It is a common practice in some territories to pay bribes while doing business. Sometimes government officials have to be paid in order to issue a license or permit. Sometimes customers ask for certain money back in case of tender winning. Unfortunately, in some territories it's a common way of doing business.

What should a project manager do if he is asked to pay a bribe?

  • Relates to personality and morality, so nothing to be discussed here. Would give -1 if I could.
    – bonifaz
    Commented Mar 21, 2011 at 20:42
  • +1 - This is a great thought-provoking, subjective question that relates to issues that project managers dealing with global clients and global vendors may encounter.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 5:06

7 Answers 7


It's not even a question of ethics, actually.

I'm working for my employer for a living. No matter how many (s)he's paying me, it will never be enough for me to accept to go to jail. And that's what is very likely to happen if I accept to pay a bribe.

So it's just not going to happen. No matter what the consequences could be, for example being fired, I'm not going to let myself getting involved in illegal activities for my employer.

  • In certain countries, it is not possible to conduct business without bribes. It is also not considered "unethical" in those cultures. Your assumption that bribes => jail is specious.
    – BryanH
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 18:00
  • 1
    It depends. For example, here in France, it's illegal for french companies to use bribes even in foreign countries. But I see your point. Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 13:30
  • But they can hire local "advisors" that will "somehow" make things happen right? :)
    – RnR
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 15:05
  • @RnR: It's probably illegal, too, but it surely happens anyway... Commented Apr 1, 2011 at 13:51

The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it illegal for an American to pay bribes to foreign officials. Your profile mentions you live in California, and CA has their own commercial bribery statutes (641.3 of the penal code). Based on a quick read of the CA statute, if they're asking for less than $250 it won't get prosecuted (because it isn't a crime). Likewise, if they are doing it with the consent and knowledge of their employer, it isn't a crime.

If you have a corporate attorney, then you should be in contact with them. You may need to write up your notes as soon as possible after the solicitation of a bribe. In the federal case, paying a bribe is itself a crime. In the California case, only soliciting and/or accepting a bribe is the criminal activity (not offering or paying one).


There are two perspectives:

  • Individual. For example I would neither give nor accept bribe. If asked to do that I'd refuse. But it comes to individual morality of a person in such situation. There are people who don't do it and there are people who would do whatever it takes to get the job done. Either way play it the way which is aligned with your ethics.

  • Company-related. There are companies which just give bribes and there are markets where it is the way things work. You can find those which don't do that even if it makes their life on specific market way harder. So the question is about general practice within the organization - if such behavior is commonly accepted and you're fine with that then, well, what's keeping you?

Note: I'm not sure if anywhere in the world handing a bribe can be done without breaking the law, but then we go back to the point 1 - your ethics. If only one of those criteria is "no" then a decision is "no" as well. And for me personally it is always "no."


In some societies, some issues are generally identified by the population as being a moral issue. However, in other societies, that very same issue can be categorized as a social issue.

The difference is that one is a hard, solid rule that must never be broken, while the other is considered a social norm that, if not followed, just seems odd.

In some countries, bribery is a moral sin. However, in other countries, bribery is considered a social norm, a normal part of doing business, just something that is commonly known as "greasing the wheels".

The answer to this question depends on a distinct combination between morality and adhering to the social norms of the country in which you're doing business. If you want to be successful doing business in the global marketplace, this may require you to weight your values and determine if you're really dealing with a moral issue or a social issue. If the cost of doing business conflicts with your moral beliefs, even if those moral beliefs aren't considered moral issues in the country you're doing business in, then you should perhaps consider only doing business in countries where you will be successful.

If you report the person you're doing business with, what will happen to them? Will the agency you're reporting this to take action, or will they just laugh at you, ruining both your chances of doing business with that person as well as making enemies.

It's up to you to determine what is moral because you believe it's a moral issue and what is moral because society says it's a moral issue. This will help you understand how to proceed.

DISCLAIMER: I am not agreeing or disagreeing with this process. I'm just saying that you have to understand the rules of the world and how they change from locale to locale if you want to operate in that world.


I think it's a very good question and I would like everyone who answered to rethink it a little more. Besides the outright bribe, think of all the lunches, post-work drinks, game tickets, etc. exchanged between team members, 3rd party vendors and companies. A check under the table is a clear and easy case, what about some tickets to a hockey game or a lunch?

We all live in a society where 'networking' is a known way to get something done. So, the question could be: How much are you willing to bribe or how much are you willing to receive prior to it crossing the line?

Let's see who claims to be a white-knight........

  • Good point. That's why I believe at the end of the day it comes down to everyone's own ethics. Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 23:04
  • These events could be considered as bribes where it is implied that "if I give you some game tickets, subconsciously you might direct some business in my direction". In a clear case situation, an agreement is understood that "if I give you some game tickets, I shall receive some business in my direction". I believe that there is a really tangible difference, although the boundaries can be blurred in many scenarios. Good point!
    – tehnyit
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 10:52

Personally, the act of bribery leaves a very bad taste in my mouth as it is just wrong on so many levels. However, your question is "What should a project manager do if he is asked to pay a bribe"?

If the request is from a client, the answer would be a no, and I would have serious doubt on the client's trust and business practices. The dynamics of the business relationship would be fractured and be difficult to heal.

If the request is coming from within my company, the answer would stil be a no. Again, I would have serious doubts about the ethics of people making the request and/or my company if it condones it.

Being part of anything illegal is very damaging to future career prospects.


Short answer: Walk away - let your project sponsor know what happened. If they want to pay the bribe irrespective, run away.

I used to work for Microsoft Consulting Services, and as such was subject to what was referred to as "QRP" commitments - essentially reading over and signing off that I understood company policies as it pertains to my role in the organization.

Over and over and over it was impressed on us through some really creative morality plays that we'd view as streaming videos, what constitutes right and wrong when it comes to gifting or receiving gifts where even the perception of exerting influence or appearing to be influenced could be construed, not to mention the legal implications as Tangurena describes. Cultural norms NEVER entered into the equation. Personal ethics NEVER entered into the equation. You didn't accept from or offer gifts to a customer that you're engaged with - directly or indirectly. Period. Full-stop.

The reasoning is clear: It doesn't pay to have your organization caught in some legal snare because you "played the game" - it damages your brand, and perception of trust and integrity with other customers.

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