The FCPA Guidance on the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program

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Many commentators are still mining the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) publication, A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (the “Guidance”), which was released last November. I continue to find nuggets to provide to the compliance practitioner, as do others. But as we are a Base 10 culture, today I want discuss the 10 points listed as the ‘Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs”. They are a change in style, but not content, from the prior 13 point minimum best practices that the DOJ has in the Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) since at least November, 2010 and, indeed, from prior information made available by the DOJ.

I.                   Where Have We Been

Beginning with at least the Metcalfe & Eddy Consent and Undertaking, filed in December, 1999, the DOJ has laid out its thoughts on what should go into a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption compliance program. In the Metcalfe & Eddy Consent and Undertaking, the DOJ laid out ten points of an effective FCPA anti-corruption compliance program. This was modified somewhat in Opinion Release 04-02, which laid out a best practices compliance program in 12 points, where the DOJ reviewed the proposal by an investment group who were acquiring certain companies and assets from ABB Ltd. ABB Vetco Gray Inc. and ABB Vetco Gray (UK) Ltd., two of the entities being acquired, had previously pled guilty to FCPA violations. The investment group desired to protect itself from further liability, to the extent possible, by proposing to the DOJ a comprehensive best practices compliance program. While the DOJ noted that this compliance program was not a shield against future violations, the DOJ would not “intend to take an enforcement action [against the investors] for violations of the FCPA prior to their acquisition from ABB.”

In the Panalpina DPA, issued in November, 2010, the DOJ laid out a 13 point minimum best practices compliance program. This number was changed this past summer when the Data Systems & Solutions LLC (DS&S) DPA was announced. In this enforcement action the DOJ listed 15 points on its minimum best practices FCPA anti-corruption compliance program. Then later in the summer, the DOJ moved to a 9 point compliance program in the Pfizer DPA. Even with all these changes in the number, the substance of each compliance program has remained the same.

II.                Where Are We Now? Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs

The Guidance cautions that there is no “one-size-fits-all” compliance program. It recognizes that depending on a variety of factors such as size, type of business, industry and risk profile that a company should determine what is appropriate for its own needs regarding a FCPA compliance program. But the Guidance makes clear that these ten points are “meant to provide insight into the aspects of compliance programs that DOJ and SEC assess”. In other words you should pay attention to these and use this information to assess your own compliance regime.

1. Commitment from Senior Management and a Clearly Articulated Policy Against Corruption. It all starts with tone at the top. But more than simply ‘talk-the-talk’ company leadership must ‘walk-the-walk’ and lead by example. Both the DOJ and SEC look to see if a company has a “culture of compliance”. More than a paper program is required, it must have real teeth and it must be put into action, all of which is led by senior management. The Guidance states that “A strong ethical culture directly supports a strong compliance program. By adhering to ethical standards, senior managers will inspire middle managers to reinforce those standards.” This prong ends by stating that the DOJ and SEC will “evaluate whether senior management has clearly articulated company standards, communicated them in unambiguous terms, adhered to them scrupulously, and disseminated them throughout the organization.”

2. Code of Conduct and Compliance Policies and Procedures. The Code of Conduct has long been seen as the foundation of a company’s overall compliance program and the Guidance acknowledges this fact. But a Code of Conduct and a company’s compliance policies need to be clear and concise. The Guidance makes clear that if a company has a large employee base that is not fluent in English such documents need to be translated into the native language of those employees. A company also needs to have appropriate internal controls based upon the risks that a company has assessed for its business model. Some of the risks a company should assess include “the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments.”

3. Oversight, Autonomy, and Resources. This section starts with a discussion on whether a company has assigned a senior level executive to oversee and implement a company’s compliance program. Not only must a company assign such a person with appropriate authority but that person, and the overall compliance function, must have “sufficient resources to ensure that the company’s compliance program is implemented effectively.” Additionally, the compliance function should report to the company’s Board of Directors or an appropriate committee of the Board such as the Audit Committee. Overall the DOJ and SEC will “consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk profile of the business.”

4. Risk Assessment. The Guidance states that “assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program”. Indeed, if there is one over-riding theme in the Guidance it is that a company should assess its risks in all areas of its business. The Guidance lists factors that a company should consider in any risk assessment. They are “the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs.” The Guidance is also quite clear that when the DOJ and SEC look at a company’s overall compliance program, they “take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.”

5. Training and Continuing Advice. Communication of a compliance program is a cornerstone of any anti-corruption compliance program. The Guidance specifies that both the “DOJ and SEC will evaluate whether a company has taken steps to ensure that relevant policies and procedures have been communicated throughout the organization, including through periodic training and certification for all directors, officers, relevant employees, and, where appropriate, agents and business partners.” The training should be risk based so that those high risk employees and third party business partners receive an appropriate level of training. A company should also devote appropriate resources to providing its employees with guidance and advice on how to comply with their own compliance program on an ongoing basis.

6. Incentives and Disciplinary Measures. This involves both the carrot and the stick. Initially the Guidance notes that a company’s compliance program should apply from “the board room to the supply room – no one should be beyond its reach.” There should be appropriate discipline in place and administered for any violation of the FCPA or a company’s compliance program. Additionally, the “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance program, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership.” These incentives can take the form of a part of senior management’s bonuses or simply recognition on the shop floor.

7. Third-Party Due Diligence and Payments. Here the Guidance focuses on the ongoing problem area of third parties. The Guidance says that companies must engage in risk based due diligence to understand the “qualifications and associations of its third-party partners, including its business reputation, and relationship, if any, with foreign officials.” Next a company should articulate a business rationale for the use of the third party. This would include an evaluation of the payment arrangement to ascertain that the compensation is reasonable and will not be used as a basis for corrupt payments. Lastly, there should be ongoing monitoring of third parties.

8. Confidential Reporting and Internal Investigation. This means more than simply a hotline. The Guidance suggests that anonymous reporting, and perhaps even a company ombudsman, might be appropriate to have in place for employees to report allegations of corruption or violations of the FCPA. Furthermore, it is just as important what a company does after an allegation is made. The Guidance states, “once an allegation is made, companies should have in place an efficient, reliable, and properly funded process for investigating the allegation and documenting the company’s response, including any disciplinary or remediation measures taken.” The final message is what did you learn from the allegation and investigation and did you apply it in your company?

9. Continuous Improvement: Periodic Testing and Review. As noted in the Guidance, “compliance programs that do not just exist on paper but are followed in practice will inevitably uncover compliance weaknesses and require enhancements. Consequently, DOJ and SEC evaluate whether companies regularly review and improve their compliance programs and not allow them to become stale.” The DOJ/SEC expects that a company will review and test its compliance controls and “think critically” about its own weaknesses and risk areas. Internal controls should also be periodically tested through targeted audits.

10. Mergers and Acquisitions. Pre-Acquisition Due Diligence and Post-Acquisition Integration. Here the DOJ and SEC spell out what it expects in not only the post-acquisition integration phase but also in the pre-acquisition phase. This pre-acquisition information is not something that most companies had previously focused on. Basically, a company should attempt to perform as much substantive compliance due diligence that it can do before it purchases a company. After the deal is closed, an acquiring entity needs to perform a FCPA audit, train all senior management and risk employees in the purchased company and integrate the acquired entity into its compliance regime.

As I commented earlier in this article, the DOJ and SEC have communicated what they believe are the important parts of a risk based, anti-corruption compliance program for many years. I do not think that a compliance defense could be set out any more succinctly. However, I do like things set out in Base 10 and the “Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs” is an excellent compilation of where we are and what you need in place to go forward. I recommend this as a good a starting point for any compliance practitioner to implement a new compliance program or to evaluate the state of an ongoing compliance regime so assess your company’s risks and use these hallmarks as a basis to move forward.