Multinational companies regularly hire agents and fixers to help them win lucrative business in complex or unfamiliar environments. These intermediaries, who include both established firms and well-connected individuals, provide introductions to decision-makers, intelligence on how to secure a contract, and an on-the-ground presence in far-flung lands. Sometimes they also serve as conduits for bribes.
Recent events in the oil industry suggest that companies may start opening doors on their own, without relying on these “middlemen.”
Last Monday, the large commodity trader Trafigura announced that it would no longer hire third parties to perform “business development” functions. A few weeks earlier, two other commodities giants, Glencore and Gunvor, indicated that they would significantly reduce their use of this type of intermediary as well. That means three of the world’s largest trading companies may desert a decades-old playbook. Their statements follow an uptick in related anti-corruption investigations, with current inquiries examining trader activities in Brazil, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Venezuela. Intermediaries feature prominently in most of the accusations.