Greetings from Venice and a big thanks to Joe Oringel at Visual Risk IQ for allowing my to post his five tips on working with data analytics while I was on holiday in this most beautiful, haunting and romantic of cities. While my wife and I have come here several times, we somehow managed to arrive on the first weekend of Carnivale, without knowing when it began. On this first weekend, the crowds were not too bad and it was more of a local’s scene than the full all out tourist scene.
As usual, Venice provides several insights for the anti-corruption compliance practitioner, whether you harbor under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act, both, or some other such law. One of the first things I noticed in Venice was the large number of selfie-sticks and their use by (obviously) tourists. But the thing that struck me was the street vendors who previously sold all manner of knock-off and counterfeit purses, wallets and otherwise fake leather goods had now moved exclusively to market these selfie-sticks. Clearly these street vendors were responding to a market need and have moved quickly to fill this niche.
While the economics, inventory, bureaucracy, market-responsiveness of such businesses may be a bit more nimble than the more traditional US entity doing business overseas it does bring up a very good lesson for the compliance practitioner. A risk assessment is a tool for a variety of purposes. Certainly moving into a new geographic area is an important reason to perform a risk assessment. However, it can also be used for a new product offering, such as a selfie-stick. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “As a company’s risk for FCPA violations increases, that business should consider increasing its compliance procedures, including due diligence and periodic internal audits. The degree of appropriate due diligence is fact-specific and should vary based on industry, country, size, and nature of the transaction, and the method and amount of third-party compensation. Factors to consider, for instance, include risks presented by: 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. 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.”
So what if your company comes to market with a new product or, in the case of the Venetian street merchants, move to sell a product for the first time even if the product is not exactly ‘new’. Obviously you will need to consider all government touch points that could bring you into potential violation under the FCPA. You should determine not only what licenses you will need but also how you will obtain them. Avon has come to over $500MM in FCPA grief by paying bribes to obtain licenses (and then doubling down by going full Watergate in its cover-up). Wal-Mart is alleged to have gotten into hot water in Mexico for paying bribes to obtain permits to do business in that country. So will your company obtain these licenses directly or use a third party to obtain them?
What about continued quality control of your new product? If you are in the food product industry this will mean continued inspections of your products to assure they meet government standards. Make sure that you have a hiring process in place to weed out the wives, sons or daughters of any food service inspectors. Of course, do not hire such inspectors for jobs directly either, especially if they do not have to show up or perform any duties to get paid by your company.
If you are not going to manufacture your selfie-stick equivalent in the country where these new products will be sold, how will you import them? Who will be interfacing with the foreign government on tax issues for importing of products? Will they be there permanently or on a temporary basis? All questions that have gotten US companies into FCPA trouble when they paid bribes to answer, assuage or grease some or all of the answers.
It turns out the compliance practitioner can learn quite a bit from the selfie-stick; not all of it is simple self-indulgence. Your compliance program must respond to your business initiatives. To do so, you also need to have a seat that the big boy table where such initiatives are discussed. But that is another lesson from Venice for a different day. Until then, ciao.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015