After earning a graduate degree in Engineering Management, Ashton began working for PDRC International. This is a company based in the U.S. which offers engineering, design, and construction services to countries all over the world.
Ashton’s work is focused on international development; her first assignment is to lead a team to develop a bid for a highway construction project in East Africa. After the engineering proposal is submitted, Ashton is proud of the work her team has accomplished and promises her manager she will do everything possible to make sure that PDRC receives the contract.
PDRC’s bid is well-received, and Ashton and her team are flown to East Africa to finish negotiations. Ashton is thrilled when her company receives the bid; the only stipulation is that they build their construction headquarters in a specific region in the country. Ashton then begins scouting the region for a location to build their headquarters.
In order to obtain building permits in the region, Ashton has to negotiate with the local government. As she begins negotiations, she realizes that bribery is both a common and expected practice. If she does not bribe the local officials, she will not be able to build PDRC’s headquarters in that region and consequently will lose the contract; her first managerial project will be a failure. However, it is illegal for a U.S. citizen to bribe a foreign official in order to obtain business; if she is caught for bribery, she could face jail time and her company could be fined millions of dollars.
What should she do?
Clare Bartlett was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.