Starting from the conviction that the collaborative work between French professionals of the Compliance realm brings a new approach of the risk management, the association “Le Cercle de la Compliance” or “The Circle of the Compliance” (The Circle), was created in 2011. It brought together compliance professionals from all walks of life; in-house compliance officers, lawyers, Audit, Internal Control, Supply Chain, Procurement, Human Resources, external law firms, consultants and compliance service providers. The Circle’s mission is to raise awareness of Compliance in France with legal directors, compliance specialists and general management.

The Circle organizes major events, conferences, breakfasts and other panels, led by experts and specialists from France and abroad. In 2017, France passed the seminal anti-corruption law, Sapin II, which created an electroshock in France and mobilized the compliance profession within the country. The Circle fulfills a huge need in the French compliance community. I was privileged to speak at the recently concluded Retreat and CompTech Forum in Paris.

President Catherine Delhaye has held the position since November 2017 and opened the conference, leading panel discussion on the state of the compliance profession in France. The event was a two-day affair, with Day One focused on the compliance professional and profession in France. Day One ended with a keynote speech by Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer with a fascinating discussion of the challenges in data privacy/data protection and  some of the advances in AI that are here today.  Day Two was focused on corporate compliance programs in France. I led off the discussion on Day Two with a talk on fully operationalizing a corporate compliance program. Other programs included investigations and interviews, best practices for the management of third parties and the use of ComTech (or what the French call ‘CompTech’) in a best practices compliance program. A highlight for me was the panel on investigations where Max Roche,  Compliance Manager, Direct Funding at the World Economic Forum talked about his self-styled role of Columbo he used during interviews. He had all the techniques down, save and except the rumpled trench coat. But who knows, he may wear the coat into the interview to full out his persona.

One of the things that I found most interesting about the state of corporate compliance programs in France is that as a relatively corporate discipline it has the opportunity to bypass the phase of compliance “by lawyers, for lawyers” that existed from 2004 to 2015. This was the era where Codes of Conduct, Policies and Procedures were largely drafted by lawyers, with little to no reference to business processes. In this phase compliance professionals were largely seen as ‘Dr. No from the Land of No’ because of mindset of in-house counsel, where the goal was to protect the corporation, not prevent, detect and remediateas was advocated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and most compliance commentators.

However, that phase ended with the awareness that compliance is a business process which not only facilitates greater business efficiency but enhances corporate profitability. The Circle recognizes this through its embracing of technological service providers as a key component of the compliance solution. This unique situation allows French compliance professionals to move directly to operationalizing compliance programs, which of course is the most recent thinking of the DOJ. Much of the conference focused on the use of technological tools and how compliance, properly seen, is a business process.

It was fascinating to watch and listen to compliance professionals consider how they could integrate compliance directly into their business. It was an exciting process to see as the attendees at the conference were ready, willing and eager to learn not only about current best practices but also the cutting edge of technical solutions for their corporate compliance programs.

One of the most interesting initiatives of The Circle is Compliance 2024. Shortly after the passage of Sapin II, Paris was awarded the 2024 Olympic Games. The Circle believes that the “duty of vigilance under this law marks the convergence between compliance and respect for human rights.” What is the relationship between these events for the French compliance communities? As France will be at the highest level on the world’s stage for the Olympics, the Circle believes that “compliance and ethics prevail throughout the organization of the Olympics of Paris 2024.”

With a will driven by a new breath, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is leading the fight  against corruption and violation of human rights. Paris will be the first host city of the Olympic Games to comply with a new obligation to fight against corruption and respect for human rights as part of its contract with the IOC. The compliance program that will be put in place as well as the integrity of future Games could therefore become a reference for the future of not only the Olympics but also other major sporting events.

Compliance 2024 brings together French players who want to make the Paris Olympics a model of integrity likely to inspire the next host cities and other major sports organizations. Compliance 2024 has partnered with one of the top compliance professionals in academia, Professor Andy Spalding, a global expert on Olympic compliance issues. In this context, The Circle asked Professor Spalding to form an Olympic Compliance Task Force (of which I am a member) to bring together international opinion leaders on human rights issues and corruption in mega-sporting events to help. Compliance 2024 will identify good practices and specific risks of corruption and human rights abuses and will be represented in the Task Force by Cécilia Fellouse-Guenkel, General Secretary of The Circle.

The Circle is fast becoming one of the leading compliance and ethics forums in France. Much as the Greater Houston Business and Ethics Roundtable (GHBER) fills a need for compliance professionals in the City of Houston, The Circle is rapidly filling that need in France. I found it exciting and exhilarating to be surrounded by such a group of compliance professionals, unencumbered with the legacies of the past, which have largely been discarded, moving forward to create compliance for 2020 and beyond.

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© Thomas R. Fox, 2019