Chuck Duross has called the compliance profession “The Alamo” of corporate America, in that sometimes you must take a stand, draw a line in the sand and make the ultimate commitment to your values. Based upon the events in Charlottesville last weekend and the response of the administration, I think the compliance profession is at one of those points.

Corporate America in the person of multiple Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) made clear where they stand in rejecting the espoused values of hate and bigotry demonstrated in Charlottesville. The now disbanded Strategic and Policy Forum – in a prepared statement called the “intolerance, racism and violence” an “affront to core American values”. The US military made clear where it stood as the New York Times (NYT) reported that the “Five armed services chiefs — of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines and the National Guard Bureau — posted statements on social media condemning neo-Nazis and racism in uncompromising terms.”

What should be the response of the compliance profession? I think the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI) set a proper tone with its statement, entitled To the Members and Stakeholders of the ECI Community, where they said “We respect the institution of the US government and treasure its mandate to serve the public trust. That is why we encourage the leadership of the country to recognize the implications of their current rhetoric on our nation. Culture is impacted by the tone at the top. Many of you as ethics and compliance professionals are taking similar steps to communicate with your stakeholders, affirming your commitment to your core ethical values and doing the right thing. We applaud your efforts and stand with you as you endeavor to conduct your business with the highest level of integrity.”

Your corporate culture does impact how employees see they will be treated and how the organization treats them. There is no place in America for “intolerance, racism and violence”. Moreover, every corporation can fight this scourge by reaffirming its own values, mission and vision, which should be to treat employees fairly and with dignity, not spewing hatred and bigotry. This is where the compliance profession can make a difference.

I often say that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance is the business solution to the problem outlawed by the FCPA of bribery and corruption. Corporate America initially embraced compliance as a response to a regulatory requirement but now sees compliance as a business process which leads to more efficient business process and ultimately greater profitability. The compliance profession leads this effort. Now corporate America must reaffirm its core values of as, the ECI said “innate dignity and equality of all human beings”.

Yet for the compliance profession this is a moment when we must stand and say not only will we not embrace these abhorrent values but we will actively work to treat our employees and those with whom we do business with unity and inclusion. Moreover, intolerance, bigotry and hatred are not only always wrong but they are equally bad for business. Therefore, compliance professionals have a solid business reason to push back with ethical values of equality and the willingness to stand up for these values. By doing so, you can lead the rejection of these repulsive values in your company.

The numerous CEOs who released public statements rejecting the events of Charlottesville and the administration’s response have set a tone for each of their organizations. Now it is up to each of us, as compliance professionals, to stand up to these sentiments expressed by these CEOs.

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks said to the company’s employees “The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss. We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.” As compliance professionals, we can do our part to fight hatred and bigotry by doing compliance and taking that tone from your CEO or senior management and operationalizing it into the fabric of your organization.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017