Alexandra Wrage, President of TRACEEd. Note-today we have a guest post from Alexandra Wrage, President of  Trace International.

Well over a thousand people with an interest in enhancing transparency worldwide met in Brasilia for the International Anti-Corruption Conference last week to share best practices, brainstorm, promote new ideas and, often, just to complain about the slow pace of change.

At this conference, as elsewhere, three themes have emerged.

1.The burden on companies will continue to grow.

Governments hoping to have an impact on transnational crime recognize that exerting pressure on multinational companies is the most expedient way to proceed. Governments are hampered by legal obstacles and political sensitivities and cannot easily reach across borders to solve significant social, economic and security challenges. They can, however, require their companies or companies listed on their exchanges to work to reduce bribery (the FCPA and similar laws in other jurisdictions), curb the use of forced or trafficked labor (California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2012), reduce violence associated with conflict minerals (Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act), and prevent money laundering, (various new initiatives impacting the financial services industry).

2.The current pace of expenditure on compliance is unsustainable.

The numbers of employees companies are expected to train on compliance topics, using both on-line and in-person training, is increasing. Many companies have determined that it’s simpler to just train everyone rather than invest the resources to sort and track different categories of employees. Companies are searching denied parties lists with increasing frequency. Ten years ago, many companies searched only the entity name and only upon contract renewal. Many now prudently search the entity name and the names of all owners, — and they search weekly or daily. The world of due diligence has probably changed the most dramatically as companies are encouraged to seek certainty in all of their relationships. Certainty isn’t available at any price, and near-certainty is very expensive indeed. Companies spend breathtaking sums to try to prove that a media report is not true, that a rumor is unfounded or that a government official’s golf buddy is not likely to trade on the relationship.

And that’s just for compliance with the FCPA. Now companies are looking at setting up parallel due diligence systems to vet their suppliers with respect to their use of conflict minerals or for egregious labor practices. The former may be the purview of the procurement department and the latter the responsibility of the labor and employment group. Multiple processes, occasionally duplicative and often without visibility across departments, result in mounting expense, compliance fatigue and employee cynicism.

3.Companies will have to choose between a more collective, shared-cost approach to compliance, doing too little or paying too much.

Companies have, on the whole, not been able to overcome their queasiness about ill-defined anti-trust concerns or their natural instincts to avoiding sharing information with competitors. That needs to change for the business community to begin stemming the financial hemorrhage and increasing levels of risk.

Here are just three examples of how this could work. Spoiler alert: one is a TRACE project of which we’re very proud.

On-line training: Currently, companies choose either to create their online training in-house with some combination of video vignettes and PowerPoints or pay for generic or moderately tailorable off-the-shelf training that isn’t always relevant to their industry or the regions in which they operate. Instead, industry groups could get organized.  They could pool the resources of their members to create an on-line training module tailored to the specific needs of that industry, with carefully selected case studies relevant to their respective employees, pay a third party LMS to host the module and then share the product amongst the contributors. The benchmarking and exchange of expertise around the roll-out ensures a high-quality product. Everyone gets trained to the same high standard and the cost is shared.

Model policies: Most compliance experts agree that a purely off-the-shelf compliance program is inadequate and companies simply cut and paste their program at their peril. On the other hand, there are component parts of any compliance program that are largely duplicative and vary little. Companies can benefit from perusing the policies of other multinationals and highlighting the aspects relevant to their business. Once this benchmarking step is complete, in-house counsel or compliance experts are in an informed position and can speak to their outside counsel knowledgeably, making the process more meaningful and less expensive. Similarly, access to databases of policies can support on-going benchmarking efforts for companies keen to maintain their state-of-the-art policies. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime maintains such a database with the policies of the Global Fortune 500. Industry groups could also work to pool redacted policies for the benefit of all members.

Due diligence: Currently, companies – in-house or through vendors – collect baseline due diligence information about their third party representatives including ownership, ties to the government, past misconduct, denied party hits and compliance certifications. And then the next company does the same thing all over again. The collection of this first round of information is labor-intensive and requires attention to detail, but – apart from the fact of the relationships themselves – none of the information gives rise to either competitive or anti-trust concerns.  Intermediaries themselves will tell you that they are being bludgeoned with repetitive, near-identical requests for information from multiple companies. Instead, third parties could be invited to answer all questions and upload documentation once to a secure global platform, subject to rigorous verification and continuous watch list screening, and all companies could have access to this baseline due diligence with the third party’s approval. (As foreshadowed, TRACE has built this public tool – TRACnumber.com)  Companies pay nothing. Third party intermediaries pay a modest fee to fund the platform and the translation and verification process. The information is shared, saving both parties the cost and delay of duplicative efforts. (Click here to see a 90-second animated video on TRAC.

There are a lot of smart and creative people working in the field of compliance, including the intrepid but briefly incapacitated host of this blog. Accomplishing the more basic tasks through these and other collective approaches will free up time and budget, enabling companies to direct their more complex problems to these experts for carefully tailored solutions.

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.

1 comments
Paul Ferguson
Paul Ferguson

Great post...looking forward to learning more about Tracnumber....FYI..the TRAC link appears to be inaccurate (it takes me to a OWA url)