Brooklyn BridgeI recently completed a course from The Teaching Company, entitled “Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity”, taught by Professor Stephen Ressler. It was a wonderful learning experience about some of the world’s greatest structures and the development of structural engineering throughout history. As I worked my way through the course, it occurred to me that many structural engineering concepts are apt descriptors for an anti-corruption compliance program. So today, I will begin the ‘Great Structures Week’ as an entrée into an appropriate topic for your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other anti-corruption/anti-bribery compliance program. Each day I will discuss a structural engineering concept together with one my favorite examples from Professor Ressler’s course.

To open the series I will consider what makes a structure great. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (Vitruvius) was a Roman author, architect, and civil engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his work entitled De Architectura. Vitruvius is famous for proclaiming that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas, meaning that it must be solid, useful and beautiful. These are sometimes termed the Vitruvian Triad and today these are loosely translated that great constructions must have form, function or structure. Form is the arrangement of space and harmony. Function is the measure of usefulness. Structure contains innovative techniques in its creation.

My favorite example of a structure that incorporates all three of these concepts is the Brooklyn Bridge. The beauty of the form follows the functions of the scientific principles that underlie the bridge’s structure. As Ressler noted “Each element of the form of the Brooklyn Bridge serves a structural purpose based on mathematical principles.” First the form itself is one of great beauty. The function remains the same, even if the modes of transport have evolved; the Bridge was designed to carry people from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Yet as Ressler notes, “beyond the aesthetic, these features are a direct reflection of the scientific principles underlying the bridge’s design. They are, in a word, structure – a system of load carrying elements that cause the bridge to stand up.” We have a graceful and elegant design, which operates to safely conduct people over the Hudson River, through an engineering design that allows the structure to act as intended.

This convergence of Vitruvius’ tripartite view of what makes a great structure is an appropriate analogy for a best practices anti-corruption compliance program to facilitate compliance with the FCPA, UK Bribery Act or similar regime. Over the years both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have made clear that each company should have a compliance program that fits its needs. Indeed, in the FCPA Guidance, it could not have been made clearer when it stated, “Individual companies may have different compliance needs depending on their size and the particular risks associated with their businesses, among other factors. When it comes to compliance, there is no one-size-fits-all program.” The Guidance goes on to state the obvious when it notes, “companies may consider a variety of factors when making their own determination of what is appropriate for their specific business needs. Indeed, small- and medium-size enterprises likely will have different compliance programs from large multi-national corporations”.

The Guidance goes on to note, “Compliance programs that employ a “check-the-box” approach may be inefficient and, more importantly, ineffective. Because each compliance program should be tailored to an organization’s specific needs, risks, and challenges, the information provided below should not be considered a substitute for a company’s own assessment of the corporate compliance program most appropriate for that particular business organization. In the end, if designed carefully, implemented earnestly, and enforced fairly, a company’s compliance program—no matter how large or small the organization—will allow the company generally to prevent violations, detect those that do occur, and remediate them promptly and appropriately.”

Yet when viewed through Vitruvius’ prism, it is clear that an anti-corruption compliance program is much more holistic, with form, function and structure. A good compliance program is really about good financial controls. I think this is one outlook of FCPA compliance which is not discussed enough. Stanley Sporkin, in many ways the progenitor of the law, recognized that if a company was going to engage in corruption it would have to hide such activity through falsified books and records. Hence, he articulated the basis for having the accounting provisions included when Act was originally written and enacted into law. These provisions include both the books and records provision and the internal controls provision. The Guidance says, “the accounting provisions ensure that all public companies account for all of their assets and liabilities accurately and in reasonable detail”. So the form of a compliance program should be largely in financial controls that are baked into a company.

The formula of a compliance program can follow several forms. It can be based on the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program from the FCPA Guidance, the Six Principles of Adequate Procedures as contemplated by the UK Bribery Act; the OECD 13 Good Practices or other formulations such as the Five Elements of an Effective Compliance Program developed by Stephen Martin and Paul McNulty from the law firm of Baker & McKenzie. The form of any of these articulations meets the Vitruvius definition.

Next is the function. Here I think it is appropriate to consider what the FCPA Guidance says regarding internal controls, that being “Internal controls over financial reporting are the processes used by compa­nies to provide reasonable assurances regarding the reliabil­ity of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements. They include various components, such as: a control environment that covers the tone set by the organi­zation regarding integrity and ethics; risk assessments; con­trol activities that cover policies and procedures designed to ensure that management directives are carried out (e.g., approvals, authorizations, reconciliations, and segregation of duties); information and communication; and monitor­ing.” Moreover, “the design of a company’s internal controls must take into account the operational realities and risks attendant to the company’s business, such as: the nature of its products or services; how the products or services get to market; the nature of its work force; the degree of regulation; the extent of its government interaction; and the degree to which it has operations in countries with a high risk of corruption.” This language points to function of any best practices compliance program, to make the company a better-run company.

Finally, in the area of structure it is incumbent to recall that any best practices anti-corruption compliance program continues to evolve. It evolves with technological innovations such as transaction or continuous controls monitoring. But a compliance program must evolve as your company evolves. Changing commercial realities and conditions can create new or increased FCPA compliance risks. Your compliance program needs to be able to detect, assess and manage new risk as your business creates new products; moves into new territories or develops new sales channels. The FCPA Guidance states, “They are dynamic and evolve as the business and the markets change.” To do so, “a good compliance program should constantly evolve. A company’s business changes over time, as do the environments in which it operates, the nature of its custom­ers, the laws that govern its actions, and the standards of its industry.”

For a review of what goes into a best practices compliance program, I would suggest you check out my book, entitled “Doing Compliance: Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program, which is available through Compliance Week. You can review the book and obtain a copy by clicking here.

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. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

All Star GameToday is the 83rd anniversary of the initial Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, which took place on this date in 1933, in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The brainchild of a determined sports editor, the event was designed to bolster the sport and improve its reputation during the darkest years of the Great Depression. The sports editor of the Chicago Tribune convinced his owner to allow him to lobby for the game with MLB’s Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the owners. To win over the public, they allowed fan balloting for the Game’s players. The proceeds went to a charity for retired baseball players. The Game was a rousing success and has continued as an institution to this day.

The conception and execution of the first All-Star Game shows what a committed tone from top management can create. Last week I wrote a couple of posts dealing with the tone for an organization around compliance with anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); one on tone in the middle and one on tone at the bottom. As usual, when I begin writing about a topic, I do not seem to be able to start where I thought I would end. So today, with the anniversary of the first MLB All-Star Game in mind, I decided to round out my triumvirate of posts by concluding with some thoughts on Tone at the Top and the reasons why it is so important to any anti-corruption compliance program.

Quite simply, any compliance program starts at the top and flows down throughout the company. Before you arrive at tone in the middle and bottom, it must start with a commitment at the top. All regulatory schemes for anti-corruption compliance recognize this key hypothesis. The concept of an appropriate tone at the top is in the US Sentencing Guidelines for organizations accused of violating the FCPA; the FCPA Guidance; the UK Bribery Act’s Six Principles of Adequate Procedures; and the OECD Good Practice Guidance on Internal Controls, Ethics and Compliance (OECD Good Practices). The reason all of these guidelines incorporate it into their respective practices is that all employees look to the top of the company to see what is important.

The US Sentencing Guidelines reads:

High-level personnel and substantial authority personnel of the organization shall be knowledgeable about the content and operation of the compliance and ethics program … and shall promote an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to compliance with the law. 

The OECD Good Practices reads:

  1. strong, explicit and visible support and commitment from senior management to the company’s internal controls, ethics and compliance programs or measures for preventing and detecting foreign bribery; 

The UK Bribery Act’s Six Principles of Adequate Procedures reads:

The top-level management of a commercial organisation (be it a board of directors, the owners or any other equivalent body or person) are committed to preventing bribery by persons associated with it. They foster a culture within the organisation in which bribery is never acceptable. 

The FCPA Guidance, under the section entitled “Commitment from Senior Management and a Clearly Articulated Policy Against Corruption”, states, “Within a business organization, compliance begins with the board of directors and senior executives setting the proper tone for the rest of the company. Managers and employees take their cues from these corporate leaders. Thus, DOJ and SEC consider the commitment of corporate leaders to a “culture of compliance” and look to see if this high-level commitment is also reinforced and implemented by middle managers and employees at all levels of a business.” But the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) expect more than simply to have senior management say the right things. They both expect that such message will be pushed down the ranks of an enterprise so that “A strong ethical culture directly supports a strong compliance program. By adhering to ethical standards, senior managers will inspire middle managers to reinforce those standards. Compliant middle managers, in turn, will encourage employees to strive to attain those standards throughout the organizational structure. In short, compliance with the FCPA and ethical rules must start at the top. DOJ and SEC thus evaluate whether senior management has clearly articulated company stan­dards, communicated them in unambiguous terms, adhered to them scrupulously, and disseminated them throughout the organization.”

The FCPA world is riddled with cases where the abject failure of any ethical “Tone at the Top” led to enforcement actions and large monetary settlements. In the two largest monetary settlements of enforcement actions to date, Siemens and Halliburton, for the actions of its former subsidiary KBR, the government specifically noted the companies’ pervasive tolerance for bribery. In the Siemens case, for example, the SEC noted that the company’s culture “had long been at odds with the FCPA” and was one in which bribery “was tolerated and even rewarded at the highest levels”. Likewise, in the Halliburton matter, the government noted that “tolerance of the offense by substantial authority personnel was pervasive” throughout the organization.

So how can a company overcome these employee attitudes and set, or re-set, its “Tone at the Top”? In a 2008 speech to the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, reprinted in Ethisphere, Larry Thompson, PepsiCo Executive Vice President (EVP) of Governmental Affairs, General Counsel (GC) and Secretary, discussed the work of Professor Lynn Sharp at Harvard. From Professor Sharp’s writings, Mr. Thompson cited five factors, which are critical in establishing an effective integrity program and to set the right “Tone at the Top”.

  1. The guiding values of a company must make sense and be clearly communicated.
  2. The company’s leader must be personally committed and willing to take action on the values.
  3. A company’s systems and structures must support its guiding principles.
  4. A company’s values must be integrated into normal channels of management decision-making and reflected in the company’s critical decisions.
  5. Managers must be empowered to make ethically sound decisions on a day-to-day basis.

David Lawler, writing in his book “Frequently Asked Questions in Anti-Bribery and Corruption, boiled it down as follows “Whatever the size, structure or market of a commercial organization, top-level management’s commitment to bribery prevention is likely to include communication of the organization’s anti-bribery stance and appropriate degree of involvement in developing bribery prevention procedures.” Lawler went on to provide a short list of points that he suggests senior management engage in to communicate the type of tone to follow an anti-corruption regime. I had a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a client who, after I described his role in a best practices compliance program, observed, “You want me to be the ambassador for compliance.” I immediately averred in the affirmative. The following is a list of things that a CEO can do as an ‘Ambassador of Compliance’:

  • Reject a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality;
  • Not just ‘talk-the-talk’ but ‘walk-the-walk’ of compliance;
  • Oversee creation of a written statement of a zero tolerance towards bribery and corruption;
  • Appoint and fully resource, with money and headcount, a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO);
  • Oversee the development of a Code of Conduct and written compliance program implementing it;
  • Ensure there are compliance metrics on all key business reports;
  • Provide leadership to middle managers to facilitate filtering of the zero tolerance message down throughout the organization;
  • Not only have a whistleblowing, reporting or speak up channel but celebrate it;
  • Keep talking about doing the right thing;
  • Make sure that you are seen providing your CCO with access to yourself and the Board of Directors.

Coming at it from a different perspective, author Martin Biegelman provides some concrete examples in his book, entitled “Building a World Class Compliance Program – Best Practices and Strategies for Success”. He begins the chapter discussed here with the statement “The road to compliance starts at the top.” There is probably no dispute that a company takes on the tone of its top management. Biegelman cites to a list used by Joe Murphy regarding actions a CEO can demonstrate to set the requisite tone from the Captain’s Chair of any business. The list is as follows:

  1. Keep a copy of the Constitution on your Desk. Have a dog-eared copy of your company’s Code of Conduct on your desktop and be seen using it.
  2. Clout. Make sure your compliance department has authority, influence and budget within the company. Have your Chief Compliance Officer report directly to the Board of Directors.
  3. Make them Accountable. At Senior Executive meetings, have each participant report on what they have done to further the compliance function in their business unit.
  4. Sticks and Carrots. Have both sanctions for violation of company compliance and ethics policies and incentives for doing business in a compliant manner.
  5. Don’t do as I say, Do as I do. Turn down an expensive dinner or trip offered by a vendor. Pass on a gift that you may have received. Turn down a transaction based upon ethical considerations.
  6. Be a Student. Be seen at intra-company compliance training. Take a one or two day course or attend a compliance conference outside your organization.
  7. Award Compliance. You should recognize outstanding compliance efforts with companywide announcements and awards.
  8. The Board. Recruit a nationally known compliance expert to sit on your company’s Board and chair the audit or compliance committee.
  9. Independent Review. Obtain an independent, outside review of your company’s compliance program and report the results to the Board’s Audit Committee.
  10. Vendors. Mandate that all vendors in your Supply Chain embrace compliance and ethics as a business model. If not, pass on doing business with them.
  11. Network. Talk to others in your industry and your peers on how to improve your company’s compliance efforts. 

Many companies struggle with some type of metric that can be used for upper management regarding compliance and communication of a company’s compliance values. One technique might be to require the CEO to post companywide emails or other communications once a quarter on some compliance related topic. The CEO’s direct reports would then also be required to email their senior management staff a minimum of once per quarter on a compliance topic. One can cascade this down the company as far as is practicable. Reminders can be set for each communication so that all personnel know when it is time to send out the message. If these communications are timely made, this metric has been met.

I hope that you can use some of the techniques for setting, creating and moving an appropriate tone for compliance throughout your organization. And, of course, enjoy the 2015 All-Star Game. Although the Astros now play in the American League (AL), my heart is still with the National League (NL).

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. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

BB KingYes indeed the thrill is gone as BB King died last week. While I cannot aver he was the bluesman ever as Keith Richards would say that was Robert Johnson, or he was even the greatest bluesman during my lifetime as Muddy Waters lived until 1965, he was certainly the most well-known and prolific bluesman I ever heard and therefore he had the greatest influence on my passion for the blues than perhaps any other. My favorite BB King song is Mannish Boy and album is “Live in Cook County Jail” which I was introduced to in law school by a law school buddy and his wife who hailed from Chi-town. So even though BB King is dead, his music and name will live on forever. Read More

Doing Compliance 05I am extraordinarily pleased to announce that Compliance Week has released my most recent hardbound book, Doing Compliance: How to Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program, in both Amazon Kindle and Apple iBook formats. Of course you can also purchase a hard copy to keep on your reference shelf as well. It is the book that a compliance practitioner should use as a one-volume reference for the everyday ‘Nuts and Bolts’ work of anti-corruption compliance.

Just as the world becomes more flat for business and commercial operations, it is also becoming so for anti-corruption and anti-bribery enforcement. Any company that does business internationally must be ready to deal with a business environment with these new realities. Doing Compliance is designed to be a one-volume work that will give to you some of the basics of creating and maintaining an anti-corruption and anti-bribery compliance program that will meet any business climate you face across the globe. The book format is an easy reference to assist you with your compliance program and I have based my discussion of a best practices compliance program on what the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) set out in their jointly produced “A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” (the FCPA Guidance) and the “Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program”.

The FCPA Guidance wisely made clear that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it stated, “Individual companies may have different compliance needs depending on their size and the particular risks associated with their businesses, among other factors.” Thus, the book is written to provide insight into the aspects of compliance programs that the DOJ and SEC assess, recognizing that companies may consider a variety of factors when making their own determination of what is appropriate for their specific business needs.

The book has struck a cord with other well-known figures in the compliance community. Professor Andy Spalding, writing in the FCPA Blog, in a post entitled “Book Review: Tom Fox’s Doing Compliance: Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program”, said, “Compliance must be thorough, systematic, and highly attentive to detail. But no one ever said it had to be boring. And Tom Fox has proven this yet again. His Doing Compliance provides the most sophisticated and comprehensive compliance guidance available, with a delivery that is witty, lively, and even entertaining.”

The FCPA Professor, in a post entitled “Doing Compliance” – An FCPA Compliance Toolbox”, said, “Fox approaches the FCPA and related topics with a singular goal in mind: analyzing and articulating the vast body of literature on FCPA best practices in a digestible, practical, and workable way to be of value to compliance professionals in the field. In short, Fox is the “nuts and bolts” guy of FCPA compliance who not only offers his own insight and perspective on best practices, but also effectively aggregates the insights and perspectives of others. Fox’s latest book is “Doing Compliance: Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program” and in it he provides, in his words, “the basics of how to create and maintain an anti-corruption and anti-bribery compliance program to suit any business climate across the globe.” The nine chapters of the book are grouped around topics such as senior management commitment to compliance; written policies and procedures; conducting a risk assessment; training; hiring and other human resources issues; reporting and investigation; and merger and acquisition due diligence. “Doing Compliance” is peppered with many helpful checklists and factors that compliance professionals can use on a daily basis to implement, assess and improve FCPA compliance policies and procedures.”

This book does not discuss the underlying basis of the FCPA, the UK Bribery Act or any other anti-corruption or anti-bribery legislation. The book is about doing business in compliance with these laws. As with all Americans, I appreciate any list that is deca-based, so the format of 10 hallmarks resonates with me. I have used this basic ten-part organization in laying out what I think you should consider in your anti-corruption and anti-bribery compliance program. In addition to presenting my own views in these areas, I also set out the views of both FCPA practitioners and commentators from other areas of business study and review, including Mike Volkov, the FCPA Professor, David Lawler, Stephen Martin, Marjorie Doyle, Russ Berland and Scott Moritz, and many others.

If there is one book on the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of how to design, create and implement a best practices compliance program, I submit to you this is the one. I hope that you will check it out in one of the new formats now available. Finally, the price is set at a very reasonable $69.95 so if you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or General Counsel (GC), you can purchase an entire set for your compliance team. You can even buy them for your friends and family if you want them to have a better understanding of what you do at work!

To purchase a copy of Doing Compliance: How to Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program click on one of the links below:

 Hard copy

Amazon Kindle

 Apple iBook

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. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

King ArthurI have been studying the legend of King Arthur and thought it would be good idea to have a week of blog posts around the legend of King Arthur, the Roundtable and his knights. Today I begin with King Arthur and some leadership lessons that might apply to a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance practitioner or others who might be responsible for an anti-corruption compliance program based on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or similar anti-bribery law.

According to the legends, King Arthur achieved quite a bit in one lifetime. He, established a kingdom, ruled his castle, Camelot and brought peace and order to the land based on law, justice, and morality. He founded an order known as the Knights of the Round Table where in all knights are seated as equals around the table, symbolizing equality, unity, and oneness. Nicole Lastimado, in a blog post entitled “Characteristics of a Good Leader :), identified five characteristics that she believed made Arthur a good leader.

Adapting Lastimado King Arthur was (1) Honest, in that he displayed sincerity, integrity, and candor in his actions. (2) Intelligent, because he read and studied. (3) Courageous, because he had the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. (4) Imaginative because he adapted by making timely and appropriate changes in his thinking, plans, and methods. Finally, (5) Inspiring, because through demonstrating confidence, he inspired his knights and those in his Kingdom to reach for new heights. I would add as a separate category that Arthur led from the front.

I thought about those qualities when I read a couple of recent articles in the Houston Chronicle. The first was by the Chronicle Business Columnist, L. M. Sixel, entitled “Leaders possess the keys to safety”, and the second was an Op-Ed entitled “Trust Shaken”. Both articles discussed corporate issues that have led to catastrophic injuries or even deaths and more importantly how the entities involved reacted. The first article discussed safety at the workplace and the second health issues in the processing of food products.

In her article Sixel, wrote, “A company truly interesting in making sure its workers are safe has to come up with ways to make it easy and risk-free to bring up potential safety problems.” Moreover, the corporate attitude which fosters this “starts with leadership.” She cited to Frank Reiner, the president of the Chlorine Institute, who recently said in a speech to the group’s annual conference in Houston “You have to eliminate the fear.” Additionally, “Once the cause is identified, similar accidents can be prevented, he said. The message that people are free to come forward to talk about what went wrong and why has to come from the top down. Identifying problems not only is everyone’s responsibility but also a companywide expectation.”

Equally important is for a company to learn from its mistakes. Obviously there should be a root cause analysis after a disaster. At the same conference, the Keynote Speaker, John E. Michel, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general and author of The Art of Positive Leadership: Becoming a Person Worth Following, said “After a disaster, there is a big investigation to find out why it happened and fix the problem before it can happen again. Sometimes, whole fleets are grounded after an airline crash.” However Michel noted that it is important to keep learning even if there is no disaster. Michel “likes to pay attention to “near misses” and learn from the times things could have gone horribly wrong but didn’t” and that “There are debriefing sessions even when things go well on a flight mission and there are always tweaks to be made.”

Another speaker at the conference Mark Briggs, area director of the Houston South office for OSHA, noted it was important for employees to feel their suggestions and comments around safety are considered by management, saying “You have to show you care and that’s its not just a one-month project.” If management shows that it takes employee recommendations around safety seriously, it will help employees down the chain feel more secure about bringing them to management’s attention.

The Chronicle Op-Ed piece focused on one of the most beloved institutions in the great state of Texas – Blue Bell Ice Cream. Unfortunately for Blue Bell, in March there were five cases of listeria in Kansas, linked to a Blue Bell plant. Three of those persons died, “although a Kansas health official stated that the listeriosis was not the cause of death.” The Chronicle piece noted that after that initial discovery, “multiple strains of listeria have been found in its Brenham and Oklahoma plants, almost 500 miles apart, according to the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention]. Possible explanations include lax safety standards, extremely bad luck striking twice or some undisclosed manufacturing issue.”

A The Texas Tribune article by Terri Langford, entitled “State Health Tests Prodded Blue Bell Recall, said, “The crisis for Blue Bell began on March 13, when Kansas officials determined that Listeria-tainted portions of the company’s ice cream made it into products served to five hospital patients between January 2014 and January 2015. Of the five who became ill, three died. By March 24, Kansas officials traced the source of the listeria to Blue Bell’s plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., built by the Texas company in 1992. On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control had traced Blue Bell’s Listeria strain to six other patients going back to 2010. Four had been hospitalized in Texas for unrelated problems when they became sick from listeria. Five days later, on April 8, the CDC had identified two clusters of Blue Bell listeria victims. The strains were traced to the plants in Oklahoma and Texas.”

Yet it was not until Blue Bell was notified by a representative from the Texas Department of State Health Services, that “lab tests on two Blue Bell ice cream flavors — Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — came back “presumptive positive” for the deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes” that the company announced it was pulling product from its shelves for testing.

What are the lessons from for the CCO or compliance practitioner? You should channel your inner King Arthur and lead. You have to lead management to understand that one of the best sources of information on your own business is your employees. There is a reason the FCPA Guidance lists internal reporting as one of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program. You must give employees a way to report misconduct and then you must use that information to investigate and communicate to employees going forward. If there are lessons to be learned use those lessons for in-house compliance training. If a true catastrophe or disaster befalls the company, do not wait to remediate. Do so as soon as is practicable, not when the government calls.

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. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015