Compliance stays in the game

Last week the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (the ECI) held its annual conference and marked the 25th anniversary of the founding meeting of one of the group’s predecessor entities – the Ethics Officer Association (the EOA). The conference covered a wide range of topics (Mark Snyderman and I discussed the ECI conflict of interest benchmarking research that was the subject of a prior post) but the clear highlight of the event was the keynote address by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Based upon some of what he has said and done outside the C&E realm I’ve not been a big fan of the AG, but I was relieved by two aspects of his message to the hundreds of C&E officers in the room and many thousands who were not present. First, he said that the government “will continue to strongly enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other anti-corruption laws.”  This is important not only because corruption is an incredibly harmful phenomenon which must be relentlessly combatted but also because the internal controls provision of the FCPA effectively requires compliance measures beyond those that are purely anticorruption focused. Second, he said: “when we make charging decisions, we will continue to take into account whether companies have good compliance programs.” This is important because enforcement-related incentives such as this are a big part of what persuades companies to develop strong C&E programs. (Indeed, it is no coincidence that the EOA was founded shortly after the legal standards inaugurating this policy approach – the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations – went into effect.)

Of course, the AG’s positions presumably would be viewed by many people as simply a matter of  common sense . But in other areas – such as climate change and fiscal responsibility – the Trump administration has seemingly abandoned reason. So, when counting our blessings in these times, nothing should be taken for granted. And, the government’s continuing to support C&E (through enforcement policy) is indeed a blessing, even if its logic is obvious.

At the founding EOA meeting in 1992 there were fewer than twenty ethics officers present. Since then C&E programs have spread throughout the world, playing a key role in preventing and detecting not only corruption but also terrorism, collusion, fraud, conflicts of interest, pollution, harassment, discrimination, human trafficking, labor law transgressions, privacy violations, unsafe products and unhealthy working conditions, among other things.  These programs are, of course, imperfect in many ways. But a vast number  of people are better for their now being part of the business mainstream.

Ultimately, the full promise of C&E programs goes beyond the business realm to nurturing habits of mind that can be helpful to addressing a wider range of challenges than corporate law abidance and ethicality. Among other things, such habits could include thinking systemically about risk, having a deep appreciation for the interests of other individuals, insisting on transparency where it is reasonable to do so, embracing meaningful approaches to accountability for doing what is right and for stopping what is wrong and protecting truth telling at all costs. None of these were invented by C&E practitioners. But for many millions of Americans and others there is now a steady reminder through C&E programs of the importance of thinking in these and related ways – and this could provide a foundation for promoting greater ethicality in the  broader societal realm. (See this prior post for the somewhat similar suggestion that ethical thinking in the private sphere can strengthen C&E  in the business world.)

So, hats off to the AG (at least for the moment). And, full speed ahead with the C&E movement.

One Comment
  1. Alice Peterson 7 months ago

    Acknowledging and encouraging stand-up remarks and decisions by our political leaders is needed. The AG should know how members of the C&E community feel and kudos to Jeff Kaplan for identifying what he sees as productive ( FCPA is alive and well), as well as what he sees as destructive (climate change denial, etc).

Leave a comment
*
**

*



* Required , ** will not be published.

*
= 3 + 0