Strict liability for corporations involved in private sector corruption: a tool to reshape a culture of corporate misconduct?

Dr Hannah Harris1
1Centre for Law Markets and Regulation, University Of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

This paper explores a possible extension of strict liability for corporations in cases of private sector corruption. Such an extension may be one tool to combat the “culture of corruption” being exposed by Australia’s Banking Royal Commission. Australia has taken steps to strengthening foreign bribery laws; there has been less interest in addressing domestic bribery, particularly in the private sector. This paper suggests that the rationale for targeting public sector corruption and foreign bribery can be applied domestically to the private sector; that harsh penalties for corrupt activity are only one aspect of a sound anti-corruption approach; and that extending strict liability to corporations for private sector corruption may help reshape corporate culture. The paper first outlines the approach to criminalisation of private sector bribery in Australia, comparing this approach to criminalisation of public sector corruption and foreign bribery. Australian law is then compared to law in foreign jurisdictions, including the UK, and discussed in the context of international trends. The paper discusses the rationale for strict liability in cases of private sector bribery, addressing the as yet under-explored possibility of applying strict liability to passive bribery in the private sphere. The paper concludes by suggesting that expansion of Australian law to cover strict liability for private sector corruption is timely. The move may incentivise corporations to shift cultural norms and promote stronger ethical standards for corporate conduct. Such an incentive is necessary to protect against the social harms of corruption, and also to safeguard market efficiency and economic stability.


Dr Hannah Harris is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Law Markets and Regulation. Her research area is transnational law and financial crime, with a focus on bribery and corruption.

Before joining the Centre for Law Markets and Regulation, Hannah was a Senior Research Analyst with the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre.

Hannah’s book: The Global Anti-Corruption Regime – The case of Papua New Guinea (Routledge, In Press) documents the evolution of a global regime to combat corrupt activity, highlighting the challenges faced in implementing and enforcing this regime. The interplay between legal, social, political and economic dynamics is at the heart of Hannah’s approach to legal research.

A key theme in Hannah’s research is the way in which power dynamics and diverse values and interests shape regulatory regimes and impact the effectiveness of these regimes across diverse jurisdictions.

Hannah’s focus on corrupt conduct emphasises its role in facilitating many other forms of transnational crime. Her work explores additional and alternative approaches to targeting corruption and related activities, beyond criminalisation.


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