Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Padideh Ala'i

First Page



This Article examines the legacy of the rule of geographical morality--that is, the norm by which a citizen of a country in the North may engage in acts of corruption in any country in the South, including bribery and extortion, without the attachment of any moral condemnation to those acts. Part I of the Article begins by reviewing the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, who served as the Governor of Bengal from 1772 until 1785, on charges of bribery and corruption. It was during that impeachment proceeding when the words "principle of geographical morality" were used to describe Hastings' defense.

Part II of the Article then examines the revisionist approach of social scientists first developed in the 1960s. The revisionists embraced moral relativism and concentrated on external causes of corruption instead of individual moral shortcomings. This approach perpetuated the rule of geographical morality by allowing multinational corporations to hide behind "culture" as the reason for their participation in corrupt business transactions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Next, the Article evaluates the recent post-Cold War discourse on corruption and bribery, which rejects geographical morality by adhering to a universal standard of conduct.

In Part IV, the Author discusses regional and global legal initiatives against corruption from the 1970s to the present. These initiatives seek to eliminate the rule of geographical morality by requiring uniform standards of conduct by private and public officials, irrespective of geography. The Article concludes with a discussion of the legacy of geographical morality and its divisive impact on the current anti-corruption discourse.