Drafting or revising conflict of interest policies

G.K. Chesterton once said “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people,” but some would argue that that meant that he never saw a conflict of interest policy.   You can bet that series of justly famous beer commercials won’t show The Most Interesting Man in the World line editing such policies.

But being a less interesting person, they do interest me. Indeed,  more so than with most other risk areas, effective compliance here requires close attention to policy creation and maintenance, as a company must clearly define what it considers to be a COI and what its employees should do when faced with an actual, apparent or potential conflict. So, this post collects some resources and thoughts that may be useful for COI policy drafting/revising.

First, it is often helpful to start with a sample.  While codes of conduct are – at least for public companies – essentially required to be posted on the web, the same is not true for more detailed COI policies (at least in the private sector – there are, by contrast,  plenty of examples for universities and other non-profits to be found with a quick search).  But a few corporate COI policies are available on the web, such as those of Best BuyNovartis  and PG&E  (the last one is actually part of a code – but is quite detailed, and so worth including here).

Second, while it is helpful to start with a template, one also should base the policy on a COI risk assessment, as discussed in this series of prior posts.

Third, if you are part of a global company you should keep in mind cultural differences that are relevant to COIs as you draft or amend your policy.

Finally, in policy drafting/revising, consider how (if at all) you intend to “check” for COI compliance, such as through a certification regimeauditing,  and/or technology-based controls, since with each of these the capacity for checking should inform (although not necessarily dictate) the provisions of the policy.

Fascinating stuff? Certainly not!  But that’s okay, because often in the C&E realm what is most interesting is when things go wrong – and it is the mission of the C&E officer to keep work life happily boring.

One Comment
  1. Howard WHITTON 4 years ago

    I agree about CoI Risk being important. But more fundamental I think is the absolute necessity for a workable (ie enforceable) definition of CoI. I was the principal author of the OECD’s 2004 Guidelines and Toolkit for Managing Conflict of Interests (now in 30+ languages), as part of the work for which I reviewed dozens of policies and Codes from Member States. Most were useless or worse. Of course, a good definition will be informed by an astute assessment of relevant risk factors, and what it is that the organisation is intending to protect by regulating CoI situations: this is an interative process. Only then can you expect to draft a CoI policy that a) makes sense in context, and b) can be enforced in practice, and c) gains support because it seens as relevant and legitimate.

    By the way, I have no time for those who would maintain that such regulatory instruments/policies need to be developed ‘from the ground up': a CoI policy/rule/Code is the organisation’s responsibility, as it is the organisation’s integrity which may ultimately be at issue if CoI gets out of control. CoI is not to be equated with ‘corruption’, but it can (and does) lead to corruption if not properly controlled.

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