One cannot really say enough about risk assessments in the context of an anti-corruption programs. Since at least 1999, in the Metcalf & Eddy enforcement action, the DOJ has said that risk assessment which measure the likelihood and severity of possible FCPA violations the manner in which you should direct your resources to manage these risks. The 2012 FCPA Guidance stated it succinctly when it said, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.”

This language was supplemented in the 2017 in both the Evaluation and the new FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy. Under Prong 4 of the Evaluation, Risk Assessments, the following issues were raised: Risk Management ProcessWhat methodology has the company used to identify, analyze, and address the particular risks it faced? Manifested RisksHow has the company’s risk assessment process accounted for manifested risks? In the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy it stated, “The effectiveness of the company’s risk assessment and the manner in which the company’s compliance program has been tailored based on that risk assessment”.

The risk assessment determines the areas at greatest risk for FCPA violations among all types of international business transactions and operations, the business culture of each country in which these activities occur, and the integrity and reputation of third parties engaged on behalf of the company. The simple reason is straightforward; one cannot define, plan for, or design an effective compliance program to prevent bribery and corruption unless you can measure the risks you face.

Rick Messick laid out the four steps of a risk assessment as follows: “First, all conceivable forms of corruption to which the organization, the activity, the sector, or the project might be exposed is catalogued.  Second, an estimate of how likely it is that each of the possible forms of corruption will occur is prepared and third an estimate of the harm that will result if each occurs is developed.  The fourth step combines the chances of occurrence with the probability of its impact to produce a list of risks by priority.”

What Should You Assess?

In 2011, the DOJ concluded three FCPA enforcement actions which specified factors which a company should review when making a Risk Assessment. The three enforcement actions, involving the companies Alcatel-Lucent, Maxwell Technologies and Tyson Foods all had common areas that the DOJ indicated were compliance risk areas which should be evaluated for a minimum best practices  compliance program. In both Alcatel-Lucent and Maxwell Technologies, the Deferred Prosecution Agreements listed the seven following areas of risk to be assessed, which are still relevant today.

  1. Geography-where does your Company do business.
  2. Interaction with types and levels of Governments.
  3. Industrial Sector of Operations.
  4. Involvement with Joint Ventures.
  5. Licenses and Permits in Operations.
  6. Degree of Government Oversight.
  7. Volume and Importance of Goods and Personnel Going Through Customs and Immigration.

All of these factors were reiterated in the 2012 FCPA Guidance which stated, “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.

One of the questions that I hear most often is how does one actually perform a risk assessment. Mike Volkov has suggested a couple of different approaches in his article, “Practical Suggestions for Conducting Risk Assessments.” In it Volkov differentiates between smaller companies which might use some basic tools such as “personal or telephone interviews of key employees; surveys and questionnaires of employees; and review of historical compliance information such as due diligence files for third parties and mergers and acquisitions, as well as internal audits of key offices” from larger companies. Such larger companies may use these basic techniques but may also include a deeper dive into high risk countries or high-risk business areas. If your company’s sales model uses third party representatives, you may also wish to visit with those parties or persons to help evaluate their risks for bribery and corruption would might well be attributed to your company.

There are a number of ways you can slice and dice your basic inquiry. As with almost all FCPA compliance, it is important that your protocol be well thought out. If you use one, some or all of the above as your basic inquiries into your risk analysis, it should be acceptable for your starting point.

Three Key Takeaways 

  1. Since at least 1999, the DOJ has pointed to the risk assessment as the start of an effective compliance program.
  2. The DOJ will now consider both your risk assessment methodology for identifying risks and gathered evidence.
  3. You should base your compliance program on your risk assessment.

This month’s podcast sponsor is Convercent. Convercent provides your teams with a centralized platform and automated processes that connect your business goals with your ethics and values. The result? A highly strategic program that drives ethics and values to the center of your business. For more information go to Convercent.com.

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