How does nepotism relate to bribery?

Jean-Pierre Méan

By Jean-Pierre Méan 
Published on Tuesday November 13, 2018


Nepotism (from “nipote”, nephew in Italian) is the practice to favor one’s relatives for appointments to prestigious and coveted positions . It was not infrequent in church circles in the middle ages and until the 16thcentury (especially under the Borgia popes), whereby the term “nephew” may have described a closer relationship than that of uncle to nephew.

In modern times, where the practice is by no means limited to nephews, one speaks rather of favoritism or cronyism, which implies giving preference to a friend or relative for a position to which they are not the best qualified applicants.

Hiring a friend or a relative is not illegal or unethical per se. In small and medium-sized businesses, working with people one knows and can trust is important and there is no reason to forego the skills and knowledge of individuals just because they are close to you, quite on the contrary.

In large corporations, however, favoritism may cause resentment, especially if the qualities of those being favored are not evident and the hiring of friends or relatives should therefore be avoided or admitted only when the hiring process guarantees a fair  and impartial selection.

In the public sector, favoritism is, if not illegal, at least viewed quite negatively. Even the appearance of favoritism (i.e. when the hired friend or relative is indeed the best qualified for the position) tends to be frowned upon in the public opinion and is likely to be used by political opponents to discredit the administration.

Despite the reservations that one may have against favoritism, it is not necessarily a form of bribery. But it can be, when the hiring takes place as a favor to a person who is in a position to honor this favor e.g. by granting business to the corporation that is employing his or her relative. Several companies have recently been the targets of FCPA investigations for hiring family members of Chinese officials who were in a position to secure business for them.

Because favoritism can be a form of bribery, it must be covered by an anti-bribery policy and closely monitored. This particular angle may be part of other rules relating to the hiring of relatives and friends, including limiting those instances and requiring full transparency when they are allowed.





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