Skip to main content
Unpublished Paper
Unwitting Sanctions: Understanding Anti-Bribery Legislation as Economic Sanctions Against Emerging Markets
ExpressO (2009)
  • Andrew B Spalding

Although the purpose of international anti-bribery legislation such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is to deter bribery, empirical evidence demonstrates a more problematic effect. In countries where bribery is perceived to be relatively common, the present enforcement regime goes beyond deterring bribery and actually deters investment. Drawing on literature from political science and economics, this article argues that anti-bribery legislation, as presently enforced, functions as de facto economic sanctions. A detailed analysis of the history of FCPA enforcement shows that these sanctions have most often occurred in emerging markets, where historic opportunities for economic and social development otherwise exist and where public policy should encourage investment. This effect is contrary to the purpose of the FCPA which, as the legislative history shows, is to build economic and political alliances by promoting ethical overseas investment.

These perverse and unanticipated consequences create two policy problems. First, the sanctions literature suggests that the resulting foreign direct investment void may be filled by capital-rich countries that are not committed to effectively enforcing anti-bribery measures. This dynamic can be observed, for example, in China's aggressive investment in Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia, and creates myriad ethical, economic, and foreign policy problems. Second, by enforcing these laws without regard to their sanctioning effects, developed nations are unwittingly sacrificing poverty reduction opportunities to combat bribery. The paper concludes with various proposed reforms to the text and enforcement of international anti-bribery legislation that would further the goal of deterring bribery without deterring investment.

  • foreign corrupt practices act,
  • bribery,
  • corruption,
  • economic sanctions,
  • emerging markets
Publication Date
August 6, 2009
Citation Information
Andrew B Spalding. "Unwitting Sanctions: Understanding Anti-Bribery Legislation as Economic Sanctions Against Emerging Markets" ExpressO (2009)
Available at: