FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

June 24, 2015

Pink Flamingos and the Compliance Audit

FeatherstoneThe creator of one of the most ubiquitous symbols of mid-century Americana died earlier this week. Don Featherstone, the creator of the pink plastic lawn flamingo, the ultimate symbol of American lawn kitsch, has died. He was 79. Featherstone, a trained sculptor with a classical art background, created the flamingo in 1957 for plastics company Union Products, modeling it after a bird he saw in National Geographic. Millions of the birds have been sold. Whether you think of the Pink Flamingo as a symbol of Miami Vice, Jon Waters and Devine or for something less salacious, here is to Featherstone, a true original.

While Featherstone created one of the ultimate symbols of the second half of the 20th century for a generation of South Floridians, the Japanese company Takata Corporation (Takata) continues to be in the news for much less prestigious reasons. As reported in the New York Times (NYT), in an article entitled “Senate Panel Says Tanaka Cut Audits on Safety”, Hiroko Tabuchi and Danielle Ivory said “In the middle of what would become the largest automotive recall in US history, the Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata halted global safety audits to save money”. Interesting (or perhaps ominously might be a better word) Takata responded by saying it had not halted safety audits for products but rather for worker safety. Doesn’t that give you some comfort?

A US Senate committee report found that “Takata halted global safety audits at its manufacturing plants in 2009, a year after Honda had started recalling a small number of cars to replace the airbags.” These audits were later restarted in 2011 but when they found safety issues related to airbag manufacturing in two key plants, “those findings were not shared with Takata’s headquarters in Tokyo, the report said, citing internal emails from Takata’s safety director at the time.” Moreover, “when the safety director returned to the plant months later to conduct a follow-up audit, employees appeared to scramble to create the appearance of a safety committee within the plant.” Finally, and perhaps most damningly, the report cited an internal Takata email which said, “No safety committee, as such, has been formed” at the plants in question.

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance in many ways follows some of the paths laid out by corporate safety departments some 20-30 years ago when safety became much more high profile in US corporations. The safety committee and safety audits became mainstays of any best practices in the area of safety for a company. These techniques inform any anti-corruption best practices compliance program, either under the FCPA, UK Bribery Act or any other anti-corruption regime. Indeed audits are specifically delineated in the FCPA Guidance as a way to assist in the continuous monitoring of your compliance regime. Such an audit can be thought of as a systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the compliance criteria are fulfilled. There are three factors which are critical and unfortunately with Takata seemed to be lacking in its safety audit protocol: (1) an effective audit program which specifies all necessary activities for the audit; (2) having competent auditors in place; and (3) an organization that is committed to being audited.

Auditing can take several different forms in an anti-compliance program. As a matter of course, you should audit the compliance program in your own organization. A forensic audit can collect and analyze accounting and internal-controls evidence in your compliance regime. This information can be used to produce a fact-based report that can inform the decision-making process in inquiries, investigations and dispute resolution. The by-products of a forensic audit can include remediation strategies to help a company mitigate and remedy procedural or internal-controls gaps that allowed the underlying issue to occur. Further, an internal audit can review a compliance process to determine if employees are following prescribed processes or internal controls, in an operational Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or FCPA compliance audit.

In addition to the collection and analysis of evidence, an auditor’s objective is to attest to the credibility of assertions that are under examination, such as the material accuracy of financial statements for which the audited company’s management is responsible. Obviously one of the functions of such an audit is to determine if further investigation is warranted.

Now imagine if this scenario had been followed by Takata. The lack of a safety committee is a glaring omission at any manufacturing facility. Simply noting this and reporting it up the chain could have gone some way towards preventing the situation the company now finds itself in; with a worldwide recall of up to 32 million vehicles. The same is true for a compliance audit. Just as monitoring can provide information to you on a more real-time basis; a compliance audit compliments this real-time oversight with a much deeper dive into what has happened on a historical basis.

The recent BHP Billiton FCPA enforcement action is certainly one to look at in this context. Although there was a committee set up to review gifts and travel requests for the company’s 2008 Olympic hospitality program, the committee did not fulfill this charge. It was alleged in the Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) settlement documents that this committee was never intended to pass muster on the applications for tickets and travel for government officials but was simply there to provide guidance.

Once again this situation points out the difference between having a paper compliance program in place and the actual doing of compliance. Even with an appropriate oversight structure in place BHP Billiton did not do the work of compliance by evaluating the applications for travel and tickets to the Beijing Olympics but left it to the devices of the business unit employees who were making the requests and ultimately most directly benefited from the gifting.

Another area ripe for audit in your compliance program is your third parties. While there is no one specific list of transactions or other items which should be audited when it comes to your third parties below are some of the areas you may wish to consider reviewing:

  • Contracts with supply chain vendors to confirm that the appropriate FCPA compliance terms and conditions are in place.
  • Determine that actual due diligence took place on the third party vendor.
  • Review the FCPA compliance training program for any vendor; both the substance of the program and attendance records.
  • Does the third party vendor have a hotline or any other reporting mechanism for allegations of compliance violations? If so how are such reports maintained? Review any reports of compliance violations or issues that arose through anonymous, hotline or any other reporting mechanism.
  • Does the third party vendor have written employee discipline procedures? If so have any employees been disciplined for any compliance violations? If yes review all relevant files relating to any such violations to determine the process used and the outcome reached.
  • Review expense reports for employees in high risk positions or high risk countries.
  • Testing for gifts, travel and entertainment which were provided to, or for, foreign governmental officials.
  • Review the overall structure of the third party vendor’s compliance program. If the company has a designated compliance officer to whom, and how, does that compliance officer report? How is the third party vendor’s compliance program designed to identify risks and what has been the result of any so identified?
  • Review a sample of employee commission payments and determine if they follow the internal policy and procedure of the third party vendor.
  • With regard to any petty cash activity in foreign locations, review a sample of activity and apply analytical procedures and testing. Analyze the general ledger for high-risk transactions and cash advances and apply analytical procedures and testing.

The compliance function still is behind the safety function in terms of maturity. Because of this there are many lessons which a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner can draw upon from our colleagues in safety. The safety audit is certainly a technique that can be drafted into your compliance program. But as the ongoing Takata air bag debacle demonstrates, your audit only works if you actually perform it. In other words, the protocol is simple, everyone understands you need to audit, but try and cut costs or corners and you will pay for it in the long run.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

June 19, 2015

Tribute to John David Crow and an Innovation Strategy for Your Compliance Program

John David CrowJohn David Crow died Wednesday. Until Johnny Football, he was the only football player from Texas A&M University to win the Heisman Trophy. He played under the legendary Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant at A&M and for all of Bryant’s success, Crow was the his only player to win the award given annually to the nation’s best collegiate football player. Crow had a productive professional football career making the Pro-Bowl four times. He was also the Athletic Director at A&M from 1989 to 1993. So here’s to John David Crow, one of the Junction Boys and one of the greatest players in the history of Texas A&M. Finally, let me say something I almost never say, Gig ‘Em, John David.

I thought about John David Crow and his legacy of greatness when I read an article in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “You Need an Innovation Strategy”, by Gary P. Pisano. While Pisano’s article dealt more generally with innovation in marketing, I found it highly relevant for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, particularly in the context a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the resolution of a FCPA investigation involving IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. (IAP) via a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA). In the NPA, the company committed to implementing and enhancing a best practices FCPA compliance program. Listed at element 18 of its compliance program is the following: “The Company will conduct periodic reviews and testing of its anti-corruption compliance code, policies, and procedures designed to evaluate and improve their effectiveness in preventing and detecting violations of anti-corruption laws and the Company’s anti-corruption code, policies, and procedures, taking into account relevant developments in the field and evolving international and industry standards.”[Emphasis supplied]

This means that the DOJ expects innovation in your compliance program to keep up with evolving international and industry standards. This requires you to implement an innovation strategy. While Pisano’s article does not specifically focus on compliance, I found that its concepts would help a CCO or compliance practitioner sustain the mandate for innovation in a compliance regime. Pisano’s article begins by stating the problem that many companies face is that “innovation remains a frustrating pursuit.” While acknowledging that failure to execute is an issue, Pisano believes the issue is deeper than simply a failure to execute, he believes there is a “lack of an innovation strategy.”

I found some of his basic definitions most useful for the compliance practitioner to think through innovation in the compliance function. Pisano wrote, “A strategy is nothing more than a commitment to a set of coherent, mutually reinforcing policies or behaviors aimed at achieving a specific competitive goal. Good strategies promote alignment among diverse groups within an organization, clarify objectives and priorities, and help focus efforts around them. Companies regularly define their overall business strategy (their scope and positioning) and specify how various functions – such as marketing, operations, finance, and R&D – will support it. But during my more than two decades studying and consulting for companies in a broad range of industries, I have found that firms rarely articulate strategies to align their innovation efforts with their business strategies.”

The key to success is something that every CCO or compliance practitioner should take to heart. Paraphrasing Pisano for the compliance practitioner is that the compliance function “should articulate an innovation strategy that stipulates how their [compliance] innovation efforts will support the overall business strategy.” Moreover, “creating an innovation strategy involves determining how innovation will create value for customers [of compliance, i.e. Employees], how the company will capture that [compliance] value, and which types of [compliance] innovation to pursue.”

Pisano posed several questions around this key area of connecting innovation to strategy. Initially he asked, “How will innovation create value for potential customers?” In my formula, customers become employees or others who will make use of your compliance innovation going forward. Here you should focus on the benefit for your end-using customer. Your innovation can make compliance faster, easier, quicker, more nimble and so on. But focus on that creation of value going forward. Pisano’s next question was “How will the company capture a shore of the value its innovations generate?” He suggests companies think through how to “keep their own position in the [compliance] ecosystem strong” through innovation. Pisano next asked, “What types of innovation will allow the company to create and capture value, and what resources should each type receive?” Here Pisano notes two major forms of innovation equally applicable to the CCO or compliance practitioner. They are a change in technology and a change in a business process. Both are equally valid.

Another problem that Pisano addresses is termed “overcoming prevailing winds” and this means that innovation can be driven downward or backward if there is not sufficient management support. This means not only must there be sufficient resource allocations but management must also incentivize the business units to proceed with implementing the innovations, particularly “when an organization needs to change its prevailing patterns.”

Another area Pisano addresses is “managing trade-offs” because it is inherent in any innovation strategy that there will be trade-offs. Here he terms the two key differences as “supply-push” and “demand-pull”. The supply-push approach comes when your innovation is focused on something that does not yet exist, for example if you are initially implementing a FCPA compliance regime. The demand-pull approach works more closely with your existing customer base to determine what they might need and work to implement innovation around those needs.

Interestingly Pisano ends his article with a discussion about “the leadership challenge”. I say interestingly because I would have thought that was required up front as it is the function of senior management to create the capacity for innovation in the first instance. Pisano writes, “There are four essential tasks in creating and implementing an innovation strategy.” Task 1 is to “answer the question “How are we expecting innovation to create value for customers and for our company?” and then explain that to the organization.” Task 2 “is to create a high-level plan for allocating resources to the different kinds of innovation.” Task 3 is “to manage trade-offs. Because every function will naturally want to serve its own interests, only senior leaders can make the choices that are best for the whole company.” Finally, task 4 dovetails with what almost every DOJ/SEC speaker I have ever heard say when they talk about the basics of any best practices compliance program. It is that “innovation strategies must evolve. Any strategy represents a hypothesis that is tested against the unfolding realities of markets, technologies, regulations, and competitors. Just as product designs must evolve to stay competitive, so too must innovation strategies. Like the process of innovation itself, an innovation strategy involves continual experimentation, learning, and adaptation.”

Pisano’s article provides the CCO or compliance practitioner with a framework to think through to help bring the innovation to a compliance program. I would have put leadership first, both in the compliance department and at senior management level. But however you go about it, you must recognize that your compliance program will have to evolve. That is one of the key differences between those who advocate static compliance standards embodied in a written compliance program and those who advocate that it is Doing Compliance that creates an active, vibrant and effect compliance program.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 31, 2015

The FIFA Indictments and Travel Act Prosecutions under the FCPA

7K0A0075While the indictments last week against 14 individuals who were members or associated with Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) did not include any alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), it does not necessarily mean that companies subject to the Act are in the clear. There can be another avenue for FCPA liability. It is under the Travel Act. In the 2013 and 2014 FCPA enforcement actions involving Direct Access Partners (DAP) defendants Tomas Clarke, Alejandro Hurtado and Maria Gonzalez were also charged with conspiracy to violate the Travel Act. Hurtado and Gonzalez were charged with substantive Travel Act violations.

As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “The Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952, prohibits travel in interstate or foreign commerce or using the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with the intent to distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity or to promote, manage, establish, or carry on any unlawful activity. “Unlawful activity” includes violations of not only the FCPA, but also state commercial bribery laws. Thus, bribery between private commercial enterprises may, in some circumstances, be covered by the Travel Act. Said differently, if a company pays kickbacks to an employee of a private company who is not a foreign official, such private-to-private bribery could possibly be charged under the Travel Act.”

The Travel Act elements are: (1) use of a facility of foreign or interstate commerce (such as email, telephone, courier, personal travel); (2) with intent to promote, manage, establish, carry on, or distribute the proceeds of; (3) an activity that is a violation of state or federal bribery, extortion or arson laws, or a violation of the federal gambling, narcotics, money-laundering or RICO statutes. This means that, if in promoting or negotiating a private business deal in a foreign country, a sales agent in the US or abroad offers and pays some substantial amount to his private foreign counterpart to influence his acceptance of the transaction, and such activity may be a violation of the state law where the agent is doing business, the Justice Department may conclude that a violation of the Travel Act has occurred. For instance, in the state of Texas there is no minimum limit under its Commercial Bribery statute (Section 32.43, TX. Penal Code), which bans simply the agreement to confer a benefit which would influence the conduct of the individual in question to make a decision in favor of the party conferring the benefit. As noted further in this article, the state of California bans payment of more than $1,000 between private parties for the purposes of influencing a business decision.

The DAP enforcement action was not the first case to use the Travel Act in conjunction with the FCPA. As was reported in the FCPA Blog there was the matter of U.S. v. David H. Mead and Frerik Pluimers, (Cr. 98-240-01) D.N.J., Trenton Div. 1998. In this case defendant Mead was convicted following a jury trial of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act (incorporating New Jersey’s commercial bribery statute) and two counts each of substantive violations of the FCPA and the Travel Act. In its 2008 article, entitled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: Walking the Fine Line of Compliance in China”, the law firm of Jones Day reported the case of United States v. Young & Rubicam, Inc., 741 F.Supp. 334 (D.Conn. 1990) where a Company and individual defendants pled guilty to FCPA and Travel Act violations and paid a $500,000 fine.

In addition to the Mead and Young and Rubicam cases, the FCPA Guidance specifies that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has “previously charged both individual and corporate defendants in FCPA cases with violations of the Travel Act. For instance, an individual investor was convicted of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act in 2009 where the relevant “unlawful activity” under the Travel Act was an FCPA violation involving a bribery scheme in Azerbaijan. Also in 2009, a California company that engaged in both bribery of foreign officials in violation of the FCPA and commercial bribery in violation of California state law pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act, among other charges.”

What does this mean for US companies doing business overseas? The incorporation of the Travel Act into a FCPA prosecution could blur away the distinction between bribery of foreign governmental officials and private citizens, if all foreign private citizens can be brought in under the FCPA by application of the Travel Act. US companies doing business overseas, which have a distinction in their FCPA compliance policies between gifts for and travel and entertainment of employees of private companies and employees of state owned entities or foreign officials, should immediately rethink this distinction in their approach.

Further, and more importantly for the burgeoning FIFA scandal, the Travel Act may provide the basis for the DOJ to evaluate the conduct of the US companies who are involved with marketing efforts directly with FIFA, regional soccer federations such as CONCACAF and its former official Jack Warner from Trinidad or national soccer federations such the Brazilian national soccer federation which was the beneficiary.

Indeed, as reported in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by Sara Germano, in an article entitled “Nike Says FIFA Indictment Doesn’t Allege Criminal Conduct By Company, the FIFA “indictment didn’t mention Nike but alleged that a representative for a company described as “Sportswear Company A” agreed to be invoiced by the firm and made $30 million in payments to a middleman between 1996 and 1999. Parts of those payments were then used as bribes and kickbacks, according to the indictment. Nike signed a sportswear outfitting deal with the Brazilian federation in 1996, according to the company website. Nike said Wednesday it has cooperated with the authorities and continues to do so.” In the article Nike also denied any involvement in the bribery schemes. Germano wrote, ““The charging documents unsealed yesterday in Brooklyn do not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct,” the company said in an emailed statement. “There is no allegation in the charging documents that any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.””

In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “How a Speck in the Sea Became a FIFA Power”, Jeré Longman wrote about the alleged charitable donations made to the Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) to construct soccer facilities in the island-nation. Yet many have never been constructed and the money is not accounted for. If the actions engaged in by US company involved in marketing efforts with FIFA, regional soccer federations or national soccer federations violated the state laws regarding commercial bribery where the US companies were headquartered there could be an argument that a FCPA violation could be incorporated through the Travel Act.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 27, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part III – The Desktop Risk Assessment

Economic DownturnI continue my exploration of actions you can take to improve your compliance program during an economic downturn with a review of what my colleague Jan Farley, the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Dresser-Rand, called the ‘Desktop Risk Assessment’. Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make clear the need for a risk assessment to inform your compliance program. I believe that most, if not all CCOs and compliance practitioners understand this well articulated need. The FCPA Guidance could not have been clearer when it stated, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” While many compliance practitioners have difficulty getting their collective arms about what is required for a risk assessment and then how precisely to use it; the FCPA Guidance makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ for about anything in an effective compliance program.

One type of risk assessment can consist of a full-blown, worldwide exercise, where teams of lawyers and fiscal consultants travel around the globe, interviewing and auditing. Of course this can be a notoriously expense exercise and if you are in Houston, the energy industry or any sector in the economic doldrums about now, this may be something you can even seek funding for at this time. Moreover, you may also be constrained by reduced compliance personnel so that you can not even perform a full-blown risk assessment with internal resources.

However if there is one thing that I learned as a lawyer, which also applies to the compliance field, it is that you are only limited by your imagination. So using the FCPA Guidance’s no ‘one size fits all’ proscription, I would submit that is also true for risk assessments. You might try assessing other areas annually, through a more limited focused risk assessment, literally while staying at your desk and not traveling away from your corporate headquarters.

Some of the areas that such a Desktop Risk Assessment could inquire into might be the following:

  • Are resources adequate to sustain a culture of compliance?
  • How are the risks in the C-Suite and the Boardroom being addressed?
  • What are the FCPA risks related to the supply chain?
  • How is risk being examined and due diligence performed at the vendor/agent level? How is such risk being managed?
  • Is the documentation adequate to support the program for regulatory purposes?
  • Is culture, attitude (tone from the top), and knowledge measured? If yes, can we use the information enhance the program?
  • Disciplinary guidelines – Do they exist and has anyone been terminated or disciplined for a violating policy?
  • Communication of information and findings – Are escalation protocols appropriate?
  • What are the opportunities to improve compliance?

There are a variety of materials that you can review from or at a company that can facilitate such a Desktop Risk Assessment. You can review your company’s policies and written guidelines by reviewing anti-corruption compliance policies, guidelines, and procedures to ensure that compliance programs are tailored to address specific risks such as gifts, hospitality and entertainment, travel, political and charitable donations, and promotional activities.

You could assess your company’s senior management support for your compliance efforts through interviews of high-level personnel such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Counsel (GC), Head of Sales, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and all Board, Audit or Compliance Subcommittee members to assess “tone from the top” and their actual knowledge about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and your compliance program. You can examine resources dedicated to compliance and also seek to understand the compliance expectations that top management is communicating to its employee base. Finally, you can gauge operational responsibilities for compliance.

Such a review would lead to the next level of assessment, which would be generally labeled as communications within an organization regarding compliance. You can do this by assessing compliance policy communications to company personnel but even more so by reviewing such materials as compliance training and certifications that employees might have in their files. If you did not yet do so, you should also take a look at statements by senior management regarding compliance, such as actions relating to terminating employees who do business in compliance but do not make their quarterly, semi-annual or annual numbers set in budget projections.

A key element of any best practices compliance program is internal and anonymous reporting. This means that you need to review mechanisms on the reporting of suspected compliance violations and the actions taken on any internal reports, including follow-ups to the reporting employees. You should also assess whether those employees who are seeking guidance on compliance for their day-to-day business dealings are receiving not only adequate but timely responses.

I do not think there is any dispute that third parties represent the highest risk to most companies under the FCPA, so a review of your due diligence program is certainly something that should be a part of any risk assessment. But more than simply a review of procedures for due diligence on third party intermediaries, you should also consider the compliance procedures in place for your company’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team; focusing on the pre-acquisition phase.

One area that I do not think gets enough play, whether in the FCPA Inc. commentary or in day-to-day practice is looking at what might be called employee commitment to your company’s compliance regime. So here you may want to review your compliance policies regarding employee incentives for compliance. But just as you look at the carrots to achieve compliance with your program, you should also look at the stick, in the form of disciplinary procedures for violations. This means you should see if there have been any disciplinary actions for employee compliance violations and then determine if such discipline has been applied uniformly. If you discipline top sales people in Brazil, you have to discipline your top sales folks in the US for the same or similar violations.

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the areas you can assess. My suggestion is that you try identifying and focusing on core compliance components in your organization. Obviously there are probably a million things you could fix. However, you cannot fix everything, so you must make a decision about your primacies, and then act on them. A Desktop Risk Assessment may well help you to do so.

As with the other suggestions I have put forward during the Economic Downturn Week series, if you perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. Moreover, when funds and resources do become available to you and the compliance function, you will have a stronger program and one which move towards best-in-class. Finally, do not forget that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with the following, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” By using the Desktop Risk Assessment during an economic downturn, you can answer any regulator who asks what have you done to manage the risks in your company, by using the resources and tools that were available to you.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part II – The Golden Gate Bridge and Employment Separation – Hotlines and Whistleblowers During Layoffs

Golden Gate BridgeToday, we celebrate one of the greatest engineering achievements of the century. On this date in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened. At 4200 feet long, it was at the time the world’s longest suspension bridge. But not only was it an engineering and architectural milestone, its aesthetic form was instantly recognized as classical and to this day is one of the most iconic structures in the US if not the world. With just a few years until its 80th birthday, it demonstrates that a lasting structure is more than simply form following function but contains many elements that inform its use and beauty.

I use the Golden Gate Bridge as an entrée to my continued discussion on the series on steps that you can use in your compliance program if you find yourself, your company or your industry in an economic downturn. Whether you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, these steps are designed to be achieved when you face reduced economic resources or lessened personnel resources going forward due to a downturn your economic sector. Yesterday, I discussed mapping your current and existing internal controls to the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program so that you can demonstrate your compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s (FCPA) internal control prong to the accounting procedures. Today I want to discuss the issues surrounding the inevitable layoffs your company will have to endure in a downturn.

In Houston, we have experienced energy companies laying off upwards of 30% of their workforce, both in the US and abroad. Employment separations can be one of the trickiest maneuvers to manage in the spectrum of the employment relationship. Even when an employee is aware layoffs are coming it can still be quite a shock when Human Resources (HR) shows up at their door and says, “Come with me.” However, layoffs, massive or otherwise, can present some unique challenges for the FCPA compliance practitioner. Employees can use layoffs to claim that they were retaliated against for a wide variety of complaints, including those for concerns that impact the compliance practitioner. Yet there are several actions you can take to protect your company as much as possible.

Before you begin your actual layoffs, the compliance practitioner should work with your legal department and HR function to make certain your employment separation documents are in compliance with the recent SEC v. KBR Cease and Desist Order regarding Confidentiality Agreement (CA) language which purports to prevent employees from bringing potential violations to appropriate law or regulatory enforcement officials. If your company requires employees to be presented with some type of CA to receive company approved employment severance package, it must not have language preventing an employee taking such action. But this means more than having appropriate or even approved language in your CA, as you must counsel those who will be talking to the employee being laid off, not to even hint at retaliation if they go to authorities with a good faith belief of illegal conduct. You might even suggest, adding the SEC/KBR language to your script so the person leading the conversation at the layoff can get it right and you have a documented record of what was communicated to the employee being separated.

When it comes to interacting with employees first thing any company needs to do, is to treat employees with as much respect and dignity as is possible in the situation. While every company says they care (usually the same companies which say they are very ethical), the reality is that many simply want terminated employees out the door and off the premises as quickly as possibly. At times this will include an ‘escort’ off the premises and the clear message is that not only do we not trust you but do not let the door hit you on the way out. This attitude can go a long way to starting an employee down the road of filing a claim for retaliation or, in the case of FCPA enforcement, becoming a whistleblower to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), identifying bribery and corruption.

Treating employees with respect means listening to them and not showing them the door as quickly as possible with an escort. From the FCPA compliance perspective this could also mean some type of conversation to ask the soon-to-be parting employee if they are aware of any FCPA violations, violations of your Code of Conduct or any other conduct which might raise ethical or conflict of interest concerns. You might even get them to sign some type of document that attests they are not aware of any such conduct. I recognize that this may not protect your company in all instances but at least it is some evidence that you can use later if the SEC (or Department of Justice (DOJ)) comes calling after that ex-employee has blown the whistle on your organization.

I would suggest that you work with your HR department to have an understanding of any high-risk employees who might be subject to layoffs. While you could consider having HR conduct this portion of the exit interview, it might be better if a compliance practitioner was involved. Obviously a compliance practitioner would be better able to ask detailed questions if some issue arose but it would also emphasize just how important the issue of FCPA compliance, Code of Conduct compliance or simply ethical conduct compliance was and remains to your business.

Finally are issues around hotlines, whistleblower and retaliation claims. The starting point for layoffs should be whatever your company plan is going forward. The retaliation cases turn on whether actions taken by the company were in retaliation for the hotline or whistleblower report. This means you will need to mine your hotline more closely for those employees who are scheduled or in line to be laid off. If there are such persons who have reported a FCPA, Code of Conduct or other ethical violation, you should move to triage and investigate, if appropriate, the allegation sooner rather than later. This may mean you move up research of an allegation to come to a faster resolution ahead of other claims. It may also mean you put some additional short-term resources on your hotline triage and investigations if you know layoffs are coming.

The reason for these actions are to allow you to demonstrate that any laid off employee was not separated because of a hotline or whistleblower allegation but due to your overall layoff scheme. However it could be that you may need this person to provide your compliance department additional information, to be a resource to you going forward, or even a witness that you can reasonably anticipate the government may want to interview. If any of these situations exist, if you do not plan for their eventuality before you layoff the employee, said (now) ex-employee may not be inclined to cooperate with you going forward. Also if you do demonstrate that you are sincerely interested in a meritorious hotline complaint, it may keep this person from becoming a SEC whistleblower.

Just as the Golden Gate Bridge provides more to the human condition than simply a structure to get from San Francisco to Marin County, layoffs in an economic downturn provide many opportunities to companies. If they treat the situation appropriately, it can be one where you manage your FCPA compliance risk going forward.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

 

 

 

May 26, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part I – Mapping of Your Internal Compliance Controls

Economic DownturnThis week I will present a series on steps that you can take in your compliance program if you find yourself, your company or your industry in an economic downturn. All of the recommendations I will make are ideas that have been put into action by companies currently facing these issues. They are ideas that you can use if you have scarce or lessened economic resources for your compliance function. Today I will take my cue from the recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement action against BHP Billiton (BHP) as a key indicator of where greater and more rigorous SEC enforcement is heading. That is in the area of the enforcement of internal controls and steps that you can take right now, even with reduced head count and budgetary resources, to improve your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other anti-corruption compliance program.

However, before we get to that subject, I want to remember Marques Haynes, who died last week. Haynes was a basket baller extraordinaire who played with the Harlem Globetrotters off and on for 40 years. As was set out in his New York Times (NYT) obituary last week, Haynes “whose dazzling ball-handling skills, exhibited for more than 40 years as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and other barnstorming black basketball teams, earned him a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and an international reputation as the world’s greatest dribbler”. He was the first Globetrotter inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I saw Haynes play in the later stages of his career with the Globetrotters; both on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and through their non-stop touring when they came to even my Podunk hometown. So here’s to you Marques and I am sure you have called ‘Next’ for that great pickup game in the sky several times now.

As they made clear with several FCPA enforcement actions from last fall, the SEC has placed a renewed interest in the accounting provisions of the FCPA, specifically the internal controls provisions. The BHP enforcement continued this trend, where there was no evidence that bribes were paid or offered in violation of the FCPA, tet the poor internal compliance controls at BHP led to a $25MM fine. Indeed Kara Brockmeyer, the Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement of the SEC, who spoke at the recently concluded Compliance Week 2015, in a session entitled “A New Look at FCPA Enforcement”, reiterated that the SEC was committed to protecting investors in US public companies and those which list other securities in the US, through enforcement of the accounting provisions, including internal controls provisions of the FCPA. It would seem that the reason is straightforward; a company with rigorous internal compliance controls is better able to prevent, detect and remedy any FCPA violations that may occur.

So, in the midst of an economic downturn, what can you do around the FCPA’s requirements for internal controls and current SEC emphasis? I would suggest that you begin with an exercise where you map the internal controls your company has in place to the indicia of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, as set out in the FCPA Guidance. While most compliance practitioners are familiar with the Ten Hallmarks, you may not be as familiar with standards for internal controls. I would suggest that you begin with the COSO 2013 Framework as your starting point.

As a lawyer or compliance practitioner you may not be familiar with all the internal controls that you have in place. This exercise would give you a good opportunity to meet with the heads of Internal Audit, Finance and Accounting (F&A), Treasury or any other function in your company that deals with financial controls. Talk with them about the financial controls you may already have in place. An easy example is employee expense reports. Every company I have ever worked at or even heard about requires expenses for reimbursement to be presented, in documented form on some type of expense reimbursement form. This is mandatory for IRS reporting; so all entities perform this action. See how many controls are in place. Is the employee who submits the expense reimbursement required to sign it? Does his/her immediate supervisor review, approve and sign it? Does any party in the employee’s direct reporting chain review, approve and sign? Does anyone from accounts payable review and approve, both for accuracy and to make sure that all referenced expenses are properly receipted? Is there any other review in accounts payable? Is there any aggregate review of expense reports? Is there a monetary limit over which additional reviews and approvals occur?

Now if an employee has submitted expenses for activities that occurred outside the US are there are any foreign government officials involved? Were those employees identified on the expense reimbursement form? Was the business purpose of the meal, gift or other hospitality recorded? Can you aggregate the monies spent on any one foreign official or by a single employee in your expense reporting system? All of these are internal controls that can be mapped to the appropriate prong of the Ten Hallmarks or other indicia of your compliance program.

You can take this exercise through each of the five objectives under the COSO 2013 Framework and its attendant 17 Principles. From this mapping you can then perform a gap analysis to determine where you might need to implement internal compliance controls into your anti-corruption compliance program. This can lead to remedial steps that you can take. For example you can recommend procedures be written for all key compliance areas in which there are currently no procedures and your existing procedures can be updated to include compliance issues and clear definition how controls are to be evidenced. Through this you can move from having detect controls in place, to having prevent controls, whenever possible.

As a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, this is an exercise that you can engage in at no cost. You simply investigate and note what internal controls you have in place and how they may be a part of your anti-corruption efforts going forward. As I said last week, compliance is a straightforward exercise. This does not mean that it is easy; you do have to work at it so that you will simply not have a paper, “check the box”, program. But using the excuse that you have limited resources is simply an excuse and a rather poor one at that. While the clear lesson from the BHP enforcement action is that you are required to have effective internal controls in place, by engaging in this mapping exercise you can then figure out what you have and, more importantly, what internal compliance controls that you do not have and need to institute.

Finally, if you do have resources and need some help, you can reach me at the email below.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 21, 2015

Compliance Week 2015 Wrap Up

Wrap UpCompliance Week 2015 has ended. This year was the tenth anniversary of the annual conference and in many ways I found it to be the best one yet. Matt Kelly and his team put together a conference and experience, which was absolutely first-rate. If you were not able to make this year’s event, I hope you will join us for Compliance Week 2016, which Matt announced the dates for at the conclusion of this year’s event. The dates for 2016 are May 23-26, back of course in Washington DC to be held yet again at the Mayflower Hotel. I wanted to give you some of my thoughts on the highlights of this year’s event and what made it so unique.

At my age, I am somewhat loathe to channel my teenage daughter but the first thing that I noticed was a very different vibe this year over past year’s conferences. From the Cocktail Party reception held on Sunday night, all the way through the conclusion of the event, there seemed to be an air that I have not quite been able to put my finger on. It was more than an acknowledgement and perhaps even an excitement about how far the compliance profession has come in the past ten years. While I have written about the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance profession as CCO 2.0, I had the feeling that we may be moving on to CCO 3.0, as that was even the title of a session.

But this vibe was more tangible than simply a feeling. One key ingredient for me was the use of social media into the conference experience. While many events have a conference app, which can provide you information on such things as the agenda, speakers and their presentations, room locations and the like; the Compliance Week 2015 app was fully interactive, allowing you to live tweet, send IM to fellow conference attendees and receive text messages when a room changed or other conference alteration occurred. It also provided a virtual help desk for all attendees.

Many of sessions were led by CCOs from major corporations and they were able to provide a strategic vision of where they were going at their organizations. This was kicked off from the start of the conference, from the first panel on the first day where the CCOs from Boeing, GE and the Director of Compliance for Wal-Mart began the event. Obviously these are three of the largest companies in the US and do business on a worldwide basis. Yet, while sharing their strategic visions, each one was able to provide a solid example from their respective organization that a CCO or compliance practitioner from any sized company could implement. From Wal-Mart with a workforce of 2.2 million employees, it was keep the message simple. From Boeing, it was incorporate any compliance failures as teaching moments or lessons learned into your internal compliance training going forward. From GE, it was how to inculcate and incorporate compliance into your everyday business planning.

The conversations were excellent as usual. I led the FCPA conversation and there were several alumni present, who told me they look forward to attending each year. One of the reasons is that there is no avenue in their hometowns to get together in an environment to discuss issues of mutual concern. It is concept that Mike Snyder and I used in founding the Houston Compliance Roundtable. A place where you can ask any question and have it answered by another compliance professional in an environment where Chatham House rules apply. While I certainly started the discussion, it quickly became fully interactive with all participants sharing their views on a variety of topics. While we have some great compliance talent in Houston at our Roundtable, it cannot top the level of maturity and sophistication present at the Compliance Week annual conference. We all benefited from the experience.

This experience was doubled when I led a breakfast event on Tuesday. While an inducement to attend was a complimentary copy of my book Doing Compliance, there were 25 attendees who joined me for a very engaging and free-flowing conversation about the state of compliance, we practitioners and where enforcement may be heading. Compliance Week treated us all to breakfast and, once again, I probably learned as much as any one. But since Chatham House rules were in effect, I cannot report on any of the substantive things that were discussed. I will share with you that I am excited to lead such a breakfast again next year and I hope you will be one of the 25 to sign up.

As always there were a number of government representatives who spoke at Compliance Week again this year. For me, the parade was led by Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. While I will be writing further, and in more detail, about Caldwell’s remarks, she said a few things that I think bear emphasis. One was that compliance professionals need to work towards more data analytics in the form of transaction monitoring to assist in moving to a prevent and even predictive and prescriptive mode for your best practice compliance program. Next she emphasized that your compliance program must not be static but must evolve as your business risks evolve. Finally, and much closer to my heart, were her remarks that you need to “sensitize your business partners to compliance.” It was if she was channeling her inner Scott Killingsworth with his groundbreaking work on ‘Private-to-Private’ or P2P compliance solutions. Or, as I might say, she was advocating a business solution to the legal problem of bribery and corruption across the globe.

But Caldwell was not the only DOJ representative as we had Laurie Perkins, Assistant Chief, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit and Kara Brockmeyer, Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on a panel moderated by yours truly. First I would urge that if you are ever asked to moderate a panel with FCPA enforcers and regulators, jump at the chance. The reason is that you get to ask the questions you want answers to; even if you get past your prepared questions, when there is a lull in questions from the audience, you can follow up with something you want to know or in my case always wanted to know. So I asked some basic questions like: What is Criminal Information? (to Perkins) and Could you explain the process for the SEC’s Administrative Procedure? (to Brockmeyer). I was certainly enlightened by their answers to both questions.

The event sponsors were of course there to provide information on their solutions to assist any compliance practitioner. If you have never been to an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the conference rooms are along a wide hall that allows good people flow and adequate room for the sponsors and others to set up, meet attendees and discuss their products and services. I view the sponsors and vendors as a part of the compliance solution going forward and while they are clearly there to sell; they also engage in a fair amount of education. But the education runs both ways with many compliance practitioners communicating needs they have which can be incorporated into new product developments.

Unfortunately Compliance Week 2015 had to come to an end. But the feeling, information and new friends I met will last with me until Compliance Week 2016 next year. I hope you will plan to join me.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 13, 2015

Senn Interview, Part III – Post Incident Remediation

RemediationI conclude my three-part series based upon my podcast interview of noted white-collar defense lawyer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioner Mara Senn, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP. In Part I, I considered Senn’s thoughts on conducting internal investigations. In Part II, I looked at Senn’s decision-making calculus around the decision to self-disclose if you have determined that a potential FCPA violation existed. Today, I consider her thoughts on what steps a company should take if it comes to the decision not to self-report a potential FCPA violation. These include the remediation of potential or actual conduct that might arguably violate the FCPA and the actions you should take on an ongoing basis.

One of the things Senn made clear is that whether you decide to self-disclose or not, your company must fully remediate the issue which led to that. She suggested that a company should act as if they will draw government scrutiny. She said, “the best way to go about it is to assume, act as if, the government is breathing down their necks on this very issue and fully remediate. The nice thing is they can decide what that means, fully remediate.”

I inquired as to whether that meant a systemic look at the company’s operations on a global, worldwide basis, particularly in view of Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell’s recent admonition not to ‘boil the ocean’ in the context of your FCPA internal investigation. Senn replied, “It used to be that in the government’s view, fully remediating meant go to 10 different countries, even if there’s no suspicion of any activity going on, just to make sure that everything’s okay. They’re now backing away from that, and in fact, they’re saying that the private sector is the one who started that whole trend, which is not quite consistent with history.”

Recognizing that there is always a risk that the government will come knocking, either via a whistleblower or other mechanism, Senn replied, “you want to be squeaky clean, so that when the government comes to you, if in the future, like a year down the line, you have another problem or the government has a whistleblower or whatever, that you can say, look, in our opinion, we did an analysis, and we thought it was not necessary to self-disclose. On the other hand, we were horrified and very upset by the fact that this potential infraction happened on our watch, and we’ve done the following 5 things, and we’ve remediated.”

She went on to explain, “What you want to do is show to the government, “We understand the problems that caused this, and we got to the root of it. Either it’s a bad apple, and we got rid of that bad apple, or it was really a failure of compliance structures, and we’ve fixed that part of the compliance structures. In fact, we’ve added more, just to double check and make sure that in this particular area or similar areas, depending on what it is, we will detect, prevent, and if we detect something, we will remediate.” They, the government, can feel comfortable that you did what they would have asked you to do anyways. That doesn’t always have to be onerous, sometimes it is depending on the scope of the issue, but that’s what I would say about that.”

Senn listed several actions that a company could engage in to demonstrate that it had taken solid remediation steps. Obviously, a company can “bulk up its compliance program.” But she added that it is important that a company demonstrate action taken against the nefarious party or parties. A company can discipline up to and including discharge. But do not forget lesser forms of discipline including docking pay or suspension without pay or other steps short of termination. I would add that you should consider the FCPA Guidance on this final point where it notes, “A compliance program should apply from the board room to the supply room—no one should be beyond its reach. DOJ and SEC will thus consider whether, when enforcing a compliance program, a company has appropriate and clear disciplinary procedures, whether those procedures are applied reliably and promptly, and whether they are commensurate with the violation.” [emphasis supplied]

Yet more than simply remediating an issue or even violation, Senn believes that a company should work to stay on top of its program thereafter. Certainly if you agree to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) or Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA), your company will either have an external monitor or reporting obligation to the Department of Justice (DOJ) going forward.

I asked her about ongoing monitoring of your compliance program; both the enhancements you might put in place to remedy generally and the specific issues that caused the problem initially. Senn agreed that is an important step going forward, she stated, “Absolutely, but I think that the monitoring requirement has now essentially expanded to the whole program. The government really expects you now to be having ongoing improvement and ongoing monitoring, so it’s not like you put in a policy 3 years ago and don’t do anything and then assume it’s okay. I think maybe you would put in a special extra audit or something like that on that particular situation, but really you should have in your compliance program an overall monitoring function that allows you to do that for all of your programs to various levels and various degrees. Yes, I think so, but it may not be as intensive as your typical external monitor, because you’re going to be integrating that into a program that’s really more holistic than just checking on that one thing. You’re going to be checking on a system-wide basis.”

Clearly this position was articulated in the FCPA Guidance as Hallmark Nine of an Effective Compliance Program. The Guidance states, “An organization should take the time to review and test its controls, and it should think critically about its potential weaknesses and risk areas.” The Guidance ended this Hallmark by stating, “Although the nature and the frequency of proactive evaluations may vary depending on the size and complexity of an organization, the idea behind such efforts is the same: continuous improvement and sustainability.”

To listen to the full Mara Senn interview, go to the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report, by clicking here, or download it from iTunes.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 1, 2015

King Arthur Week – The Quest for the Holy Grail and Compliance Defense – Part V

Holy GrailWe conclude our Arthurian themed week with the Holy Grail, which has fired the imagination of artists for millennia. What was the Holy Grail? According to Professor Dorsey Armstrong in her Teaching Company lecture series, entitled “King Arthur: History and Legend”, the Holy Grail has taken various forms over the years. For Chrétien de Troyes, it was a fancy serving dish; for Wolfram von Eschenbach, it is a magical stone; for Robert de Boron, it is the cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper; for the comedy troupe Monty Python, it is a cartoon sketch that no one ever finds; and for the modern day author Dan Brown, it is both a person, who is a descendant of Mary Magdalene, and a bloodline which leads to the Merovingian kings of France. In other words, it means many things to many people.

One of the articulated reasons for the creation of King Arthur’s Round Table was tied to the Holy Grail, since it was allegedly used at the Last Supper, it seems only natural that Arthur would seek it from his table as well. Indeed in Robert de Boron’s account of Arthur, the wizard Merlin tells Arthur the Round Table was established to identify the one Knight, who was pure of heart, who could find the Holy Grail. Only after the great quest for and locating of the Holy Grail was achieved could Arthur’s other ambitions come to pass.

Another interesting twist on the Grail legend is that it was in Britain. Curiously it was first ‘discovered’ by some enterprising Monks in Glastonbury, England in the late 12th century. They just happened to come across a well that ‘bled’ water around the time of an annual pilgrimage. Going viral in the Middle Ages was tough but the Monks built upon their initial find by claiming that both King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere were also buried at their abbey. Do you believe any of the above? Are you on your own Grail Quest, however dreamy that quest might be?

I thought about the quest for the Holy Grail in the context of the renewed call for a compliance defense addition to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which would give companies a pass if they had sustained a FCPA violation. In a recent blog post, entitled “Wal-Mart’s Recent Disclosures, the FCPA Professor renewed his clarion call for a compliance defense for FCPA violators, using Wal-Mart’s last three-year spend on compliance resources as a starting point. He wrote, “Wal-Mart disclosed spending approximately $220 million over the past three years in global compliance program and organizational enhancements.” He went on to note, “The key policy issue is this. Wal-Mart has engaged in FCPA compliance enhancements in reaction to its high-profile FCPA scrutiny. Perhaps if there was a compliance defense more companies would be incentivized to engage in compliance enhancements pro-actively. A compliance defense is thus not a “race to the bottom” it is a “race to the top” (see here for the prior post) and it is surprising how compliance defense detractors are unable or incapable of grasping this point.”

Leaving aside the issue of whether I am “unable or incapable” to grasp these issues I raised, I see this quest for (or ‘race’ as the FCPA Professor calls it) for a compliance defense for companies that violate the FCPA to be as quixotic as the quest for the Holy Grail. As there were two requirements for the Knight who was destined to find the Grail, we will begin pureness of heart. Recognizing that it might be difficult to find a corporation that is ‘pure of heart’, the appropriate analogy might be more than simply spending what may appear to be a large dollar amount on a compliance program. This is because it is not the amount of money you spend that informs the effectiveness of your compliance program. In three years Wal-Mart has reported it spent $220MM. The FCPA was enacted into existence in 1977. What do you get if you divide $220MM total spend into 38 years? My (recovering) trial lawyer math shows that to be approximately $5.78MM per year. How many billions of dollars per year was the annual revenue of Wal-Mart during that time? (Hint – a lot)

Moving our quest time frame to the modern era of FCPA enforcement, to say 2005. That would give an annual compliance spend of $20MM per year. If one looks at the company’s revenue from the middle of the last 10 years, for the fiscal year ending January 31, 2011, Wal-Mart reported net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion in gross sales. Now what do you think about Wal-Mart’s quest for an effective compliance program based upon three year’s spending of $220 being significant? Indeed what is the percent of its revenues over the past three years that Wal-Mart spent creating its compliance program? Alas my trial lawyer math skills do not allow me to calculate a number so small.

How about the second part of the Grail quest that requires a ‘chaste’ Knight? Once again it is somewhat difficult to understand how a corporation could be chaste but I think the appropriate analogy is the doing of compliance. Put another way, it is not having a compliance program in place but having an effective compliance program. So not only does the amount of money a company spends become immaterial to our quest but also the same can be said to the claim that having a written program should entitle you some type of defense to any FCPA violations. Just as questing for the Holy Grail is seeking something that does not exist, affording companies a defense from their own FCPA violations by having a written program in place is not a temporal reality.

Under the FCPA Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, that it is an interplay of the right compliance message, tools in place to communicate and enforce the compliance message and then oversight to ensure compliance with the entire compliance regime. Such things as monitoring are recognized as a key element so your company should establish a regular monitoring system to spot issues and address them. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. To address this, your compliance team should be checking in routinely with the finance departments in your foreign offices to ask if they have noticed recent accounting irregularities. Regional directors should be required to keep tabs on potential improper activity in the countries they manage. Additionally, the global compliance committee should meet or communicate as often as every month to discuss issues as they arise. These ongoing efforts demonstrate your company is serious about compliance.

In addition to monitoring, structural controls are recognized as an important element. It has been said that large companies “must use structural means to maintain control.” One of the best explanations of the use of internal controls as a structural component of any best practices compliance program comes from Aaron Murphy, a partner at Foley and Lardner in San Francisco, in his book entitled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”, where he said, “Internal controls are policies, procedures, monitoring and training that are designed to ensure that company assets are used properly, with proper approval and that transactions are properly recorded in the books and records. While it is theoretically possible to have good controls but bad books and records (and vice versa), the two generally go hand in hand – where there are record-keeping violations, an internal controls failure is almost presumed because the records would have been accurate had the controls been adequate.” These two parts are but a sampling but it is in the doing of compliance that any anti-corruption compliance program becomes effective; it is not simply having one in place.

Finally, as with all quests, what will it bring you if you actually achieve it? As with the Holy Grail, it is a good story but that is about it. I find this view best articulated by Matthew Stephenson, in a blog post entitled “The Irrelevance of an FCPA Compliance Defense”, where he gave three reasons why a compliance defense is not warranted. First (and perhaps almost too obvious to state) is that if your company is invoking a compliance defense, there has been a FCPA violation. The second is “The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) already takes into account a corporation’s good-faith efforts to implement a meaningful compliance program when the DOJ decides whether to pursue an FCPA action against the corporation, and what penalties or other remedies to impose. Indeed, the adequacy of the corporation’s compliance program is a standard subject of negotiation between the DOJ and corporate defendants.” Third is that “An FCPA compliance defense would only alter the DOJ’s bargaining position if a corporation unhappy with the DOJ’s position could either (1) convince the DOJ lawyers that the DOJ’s position is unreasonable in light of the corporation’s compliance program, or (2) credibly threaten to go to court and defeat the DOJ’s enforcement action altogether by successfully invoking the compliance defense before a federal judge.” Stephenson discounts subpart 1 because DOJ lawyers already take a company’s compliance program into account. But his second subpart is even more important because no company will go to trial against the government using a compliance defense to a demonstrable FCPA violation. Leaving aside the Arthur Anderson effect, no company is going to risk losing at trial when they can control their own fate through settlement. The modern day Knights seeking the Holy Grail of a compliance defense will never find it because of this last fact. Moreover, just as there were no real Knights who could meet the requirements to actually find the Holy Grail after their quest, there are no companies which can meet the same criteria; that being that a compliance defense could or even should trump a FCPA violation.

So we leave our King Arthur themed week with our quest intact, bringing message I hope that you have ascertained in these five posts about some of the things you need to do around the ‘nuts and bolts’ of anti-corruption compliance. I also hope that you might be able to look at the tales surrounding the King Arthur myth for your own inspiration.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

April 28, 2015

King Arthur Week – the Pentecostal Oath and Code of Conduct – Part II

Mort D'ArthurOne thing for which King Arthur is remembered are his chivalric knights. He helped create this legend, in large part, by establishing a Code of Conduct for the Knights of the Round Table. The King required each one of them to swear an oath, called the Pentecostal Oath, which was Arthur’s ideal for a chivalric knight. The Oath stated, “The king established all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands, and charged them never to do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no mean to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, ne for no world’s goods. Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.” (Le Morte d’Arthur, pp 115-116)

Interestingly, the Oath first appeared in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and in none of the prior incarnations of the legend. In Malory’s telling, after the Knights swore the Oath, they were provided titles and lands by the King. The Oath specifies both positive and negative conduct; that is, what a Knight might do but also what conduct he should not engage in. The Pentecostal Oath formed the basis for the Knight’s conduct at Camelot and beyond. It was clearly a forerunner of today’s corporate Code of Conduct.

The foundational document of any Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program is its Code of Conduct. This requirement has long been memorialized in the US Sentencing Guidelines, which contain seven basic compliance elements that can be tailored to fit the needs and financial realities of any given organization. From these seven compliance elements the Department of Justice (DOJ) has crafted its minimum best practices compliance program, which is now attached to every Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) and Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA). These requirements were incorporated into the 2012 FCPA Guidance. The US Sentencing Guidelines assume that every effective compliance and ethics program begins with a written standard of conduct; i.e. a Code of Conduct. What should be in this “written standard of conduct”.

Element 1

Standards of Conduct, Policies and Procedures (a Code of Conduct)

An organization should have an established set of compliance standards and procedures. These standards should not be a “paper only” document, but a living document that promotes organizational culture that encourages “ethical conduct” and a commitment to compliance with applicable regulations and laws.

In the FCPA Guidance, the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) state, “A company’s code of conduct is often the foundation upon which an effective compliance program is built. As DOJ has repeatedly noted in its charging documents, the most effective codes are clear, concise, and accessible to all employees and to those conducting business on the company’s behalf.” Indeed, it would be difficult to effectively implement a compliance program if it was not available in the local language so that employees in foreign subsidiaries can access and understand it. When assessing a compliance program the DOJ and SEC will review whether the company chapter has taken steps to make certain that the code of conduct remains current and effective and whether a company has periodically reviewed and updated its code.

In each DPA and NPA over the past 36 months the DOJ has stated the following as item No. 1 for a minimum best practices compliance program.

  1. Code of Conduct. A Company should develop and promulgate a clearly articulated and visible corporate policy against violations of the FCPA, including its anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions, and other applicable foreign law counterparts (collectively, the “anti-corruption laws”), which policy shall be memorialized in a written compliance code.

In an article in the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) Complete Compliance and Ethics Manual, 2nd Ed., entitled “Essential Elements of an Effective Ethics and Compliance Program”, authors Debbie Troklus, Greg Warner and Emma Wollschlager Schwartz, state that your company’s Code of Conduct “should demonstrate a complete ethical attitude and your organization’s “system-wide” emphasis on compliance and ethics with all applicable laws and regulations.” Your Code of Conduct must be aimed at all employees and all representatives of the organization, not just those most actively involved in known compliance and ethics issues. From the board of directors to volunteers, the authors believe that “everyone must receive, read, understand, and agree to abide by the standards of the Code of Conduct.” This would also include all “management, vendors, suppliers, and independent contractors, which are frequently overlooked groups.”

There are several purposes identified by the authors that should be communicated in your Code of Conduct. Of course the overriding goal is for all employees to follow what is required of them under the Code of Conduct. You can do this by communicating what is required of them, to provide a process for proper decision-making and then to require that all persons subject to the Code of Conduct put these standards into everyday business practice. Such actions are some of your best evidence that your company “upholds and supports proper compliance conduct.”

The substance of your Code of Conduct should be tailored to the company’s culture, and to its industry and corporate identity. It should provide a mechanism by which employees who are trying to do the right thing in the compliance and business ethics arena can do so. The Code of Conduct can be used as a basis for employee review and evaluation. It should certainly be invoked if there is a violation. To that end, I suggest that your company’s disciplinary procedures be stated in the Code of Conduct. These would include all forms of disciplines, up to and including dismissal, for serious violations of the Code of Conduct. Further, your company’s Code of Conduct should emphasize it will comply with all applicable laws and regulations, wherever it does business. The Code needs to be written in plain English and translated into other languages as necessary so that all applicable persons can understand it.

As I often say, the three most important things about your FCPA compliance program are ‘Document, Document and Document’. The same is true of communicating your company’s Code of Conduct. You need to do more than simply put it on your website and tell folks it is there, available and that they should read it. You need to document that all employees, or anyone else that your Code of Conduct is applicable to, has received, read, and understands the Code. For employees, it is important that a representative of the Compliance Department, or other qualified trainer, explains the standards set forth in your Code of Conduct and answers any questions that an employee may have. Your company’s employees need to attest in writing that they have received, read, and understood the Code of Conduct and this attestation must be retained and updated as appropriate.

The DOJ expects each company to begin its compliance program with a very public and very robust Code of Conduct. If your company does not have one, you need to implement one forthwith. If your company has not reviewed or assessed their Code of Conduct for five years, I would suggest that you do in short order as much has changed in the compliance world.

What is the value of having a Code of Conduct? I have heard many business folks ask that question over the years. In its early days, a Code of Conduct tended to be lawyer-written and lawyer-driven to “wave in a defense situation” by claiming that “see we have one”. But is such a legalistic code effective? Is a Code of Conduct more than simply, your company’s law? What is it that makes a Code of Conduct effective? What should be the goal in the creation of your company’s Code of Conduct?

Just as the Pentecostal Oath was required to be sworn out each year, you should have your employees recertify their adherence to your Code of Conduct. Moreover, just as King Arthur set his expectations for behavior your company should do so as well.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

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