Recently one of the most unlikely sources for praise of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) came out to inform us all that corporations are the cornerstone of FCPA compliance and enforcement. You may be surprised to find out that it came from the US Chamber of Commerce. It did not come in the form of Congressional testimony in praise of the FCPA but in the Chamber’s Amicus Curie filing in a case currently being considered by the Texas Supreme Court. Regardless of the forum, the praise was just as strong and hopefully just as lasting.
The Texas Supreme Court recently held oral arguments in the appeal of Shell v. Writt. Unusually for a state supreme court case, it touches on the FCPA. The issue before the Court is whether Shell’s internal FCPA investigation is absolutely privileged from a defamation claim by persons named in the report as having violated the FCPA. Being as this is Texas, with a state supreme court just to the right of Attila the Hun, it is easy to determine what the outcome of the case will be, the company will win.
Procedurally, Writt, the plaintiff claiming defamation from Shell’s report of its internal investigation that it provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ), lost at the trial court on summary judgment. The trial court found that Shell had an absolute privilege because the report was turned over to a government agency investigating the matter. The court of appeals reversed this decision holding that because the internal investigation was voluntary, not mandatory, that only a conditional privilege existed and sent the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings. Shell appealed this court of appeals decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
Interestingly, the US Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in the appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, supporting Shell. In its brief, the Chamber came out with full guns blazing in support of the FCPA and for full internal investigations and self-disclosure by companies. At the start of its brief, the Chamber comes out four square in support of the FCPA stating, “Since 1977, and especially over the last decade, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) has played a very significant role in the federal regulation of multinational corporations. By punishing bribery and other illicit influence of foreign officials by U.S. companies, the statute seeks to improve the integrity of American businesses, promote market efficiency, and maintain the reputation of American democracy abroad.”
The Chamber noted the importance of the FCPA to both the US government and to US businesses. It stated, “Over the past decade, the FCPA has taken on renewed importance for both the U.S. government and American businesses.” As to the importance that the US government places on FCPA enforcement, the Chamber cited to the following, “DOJ officials have publicly stated that “enforcement of the FCPA is second only to fighting terrorism in terms of priority.”” Lastly, because of this focus, “FCPA compliance is now a main focus of concern for U.S. businesses.” Moreover, US companies are now ““light years ahead of where [they were] circa the mid-to-late 1990s,” with companies “implementing more rigorous and sophisticated compliance protocols,” including thorough internal investigations and candid self reporting.”
The Chamber did not stop there with its high praise of the FCPA and the importance of the FCPA and its enforcement for US businesses. The Chamber next turned to US businesses role in FCPA enforcement and compliance when it said, “the government has always relied upon businesses to cooperate with investigations and self-report any potential violations by corporate employees. “Federal enforcement authorities have consistently encouraged, if not as a practical matter demanded, that as to the FCPA companies voluntarily conduct internal investigations, disclose potential violations and cooperate with government investigations.” With their vast resources, individualized focus, and access to documents and witnesses, “companies are actually much better positioned to gather more information more quickly overseas than the Justice Department or the SEC.”” Perhaps channeling some of the criticisms of the recent General Motors (GM) and FIFA investigations, the Chamber recognizes that more than simply results must be shared with the DOJ when it stated, “The government requires that corporations provide not just information on violations that they are certain of, but rather any “relevant information and evidence,” as well as identification of “relevant actors inside and outside the company.””
The money line from the Chamber’s brief is the following, “Corporate cooperation, internal investigation, and self-reporting thus form the cornerstone of FCPA compliance and enforcement.” It could not be clearer from this statement the importance that a robust internal investigation protocol, coupled with self-disclosure bring to FCPA compliance. The FCPA Guidance states, “once an allegation is made, companies should have in place an efficient, reliable, and properly funded process for investigating the allegation and documenting the company’s response, including any disciplinary or remediation measures taken. Companies will want to consider taking “lessons learned” from any reported violations and the outcome of any resulting investigation to update their internal controls and compliance program and focus future training on such issues, as appropriate.”
Thus internal investigations coupled with self-reporting provide both companies and the US government towards the same goal; greater compliance with the FCPA because the Chamber recognizes that the FPCA plays a vital role in international business and corruption prevention and prosecution. The Chamber even cites, favorably, the Congressional logic for the enactment of the FCPA by stating, “Congress determined that such practices tarnish the image of American democracy abroad, impair confidence in American businesses, hamper the efficiency of the market, anger the citizens of otherwise friendly foreign nations, and, put simply, are “morally repugnant” and “bad business.”” Finally, the Chamber acknowledges the importance of the FCPA for both US and international investors; both in the US and for companies abroad by concluding, “The FCPA is a valuable statute that helps to reduce corruption and to reinforce public and investor confidence in the markets here and abroad.”
This brief lays out one of the strongest articulations of the power of the FCPA. I did not expect the Chamber to come out so forcefully in favor of what that many business types continually bemoan. The Chamber’s recognition that FCPA compliance and enforcement are cornerstones of the protection of US businesses; US business interests and investor confidence across the globe is a welcome addition to the FCPA dialogue.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014