Bribery in general is a highly destructive practice. In government, it undermines the most basic systems and values and decreases public trust in government officials. In medicine, it can lead to dangerous endorsements and prescriptions of unnecessary medications.
In business, however, it can lead to an overall decrease in economic growth and the overturn of fundamental systems of capitalism, as competition becomes utterly unbalanced by bribery. This last consequence of bribery is especially significant to international bribery, as the world becomes smaller each day.
Foreign trade is becoming more and more important to the overall financial success of any given company, as foreign markets offer large areas to be tapped for additional economic growth. Some of the largest markets also lie in developing nations, with major populations in need of any number of manufactured products. But one of the unfortunate consequences of these markets being located in developing nations is simply that international business ethics standards do not necessarily carry over.
Between businesses of two developed nations, international bribery is very unlikely to occur, not least because both nations likely have similar principles and laws concerning bribery and will likely share a similar code of international business ethics. Should a business of one developed nation attempt to bribe an official of another for a contract, then someone in either the foreign nation or the home nation would be likely to find out about the transaction and would then be likely to punish those parties involved.
But in a business dealing between a business of a developed nation and the government of an undeveloped nation, none of the above is necessarily true. It is entirely possible for the government of the undeveloped nation to have no restrictions against such international bribery, or even if it does have such restrictions, it might not enforce them.
Businesses then often have two sets of international practices, one for developed nations and one for undeveloped nations. For developed nations, businesses will obey the tenets of international business ethics. But for undeveloped nations, businesses will often have no ethical difficulty with stooping to international bribery in order to secure contracts.
As was mentioned earlier, however, when one business shirks the tenets of international business ethics, it significantly affects the nature of competition under the capitalist system. That one company will then be at a significant advantage as opposed to other companies which still attempt to maintain appropriate, ethical business practices. In order for the other businesses to remain competitive, then they too must indulge in international bribery and completely step outside of the boundaries of international business ethics.
This is the primary concern facing international bribery. Any given nation can outlaw bribery practices, and it can furthermore outlaw bribery practices towards foreign nations. But there are many nations which, either de facto or de jure, have not outlawed such practices.
In such markets, a heavy advantage may always be gained by resorting to international bribery, which will then require the other companies to adopt similarly unethical practices in order to remain in the game, as it were. Without a code of international business ethics that is binding on all participants in global trade, this problem will likely always remain.