If one were to reflect upon the providing of gifts and business entertainment to foreign governmental officials, one might reasonably conclude that after 40 years of the FCPA, companies might follow its prescriptions regarding gifts and business entertainment. However, there have been some notable FCPA enforcement actions in this area.

The 2012 Guidance clearly stated the FCPA does not ban gifts and entertainment. Indeed, the Guidance specified that “A small gift or token of esteem or gratitude is often an appropriate way for business people to display respect for each other. Some hallmarks of appropriate gift-giving are when the gift is given openly and transparently, properly recorded in the giver’s books and records, provided only to reflect esteem or gratitude, and permitted under local law. Items of nominal value, such as cab fare, reasonable meals and entertainment expenses, or company promotional items, are unlikely to improperly influence an official, and, as a result, are not, without more, items that have resulted in enforcement action by DOJ or SEC.”

What does the FCPA Itself Say? 

While prohibiting payment of any money, or thing of value, to foreign officials to obtain or retain business, the FCPA arguably permits incurring certain expenses on behalf of these same officials. There is no de minimis provision. The presentation of a gift or business entertainment expense can constitute a violation of the FCPA if this is coupled with the corrupt intent to obtain or retain business. Under the FCPA, the following affirmative defense regarding the payment of expenses exists:

[it] shall be an affirmative defense [that] the payment, gift, offer or promise of anything of value that was made, was a reasonable and bona fide expenditure, such as travel and lodging expenses, incurred by or on behalf of a foreign official, party, party official, or candidate and was directly related to…the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services; or…the execution or performance of a contract with a foreign government or agency thereof.

As with most matters under the FCPA, there is little direct guidance on what conduct may step over the line set out above. Of course, there is always the gut check test, which simply measures “if it feels wrong in your gut, it probably is wrong”. It is something good to always keep in mind in any circumstance.

Opinion Releases 

Somewhat surprisingly, there are not any recent DOJ Opinion Releases from the past 10 years dealing with the values for gifts and business entertainment under the FCPA. However, there are three Opinion Releases from the early 1980s which can provide some guidance to current practitioners.

In Opinion Release 82-01, the DOJ approved the gift of cheese samples made to Mexican governmental officials, by the Department of Agriculture of the State of Missouri to promote the state of Missouri’s agricultural products. However, the value of the cheese to be presented was not included in the Opinion Release. In Opinion Release 81-02, the DOJ approved a gift of its packaged beef products from the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc to officials from the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade. The total value of all the samples presented was estimated to be less than $2,000 and the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc averred that the individual sample packages would not exceed $250 in value.

The final Opinion Release relating to gifts is 81-01. In this release, Bechtel sought approval to use the SGV Group, a multinational organization headquartered in the Republic of the Philippines and comprised of separate member firms in ten Asian nations and Saudi Arabia, which provide auditing, management consulting, project management and tax advisory services. The SGV Group desired to solicit business on behalf of Bechtel who had proposed to reimburse the SGV Group for gift expenses incurred in this business solicitation. Regarding the reimbursement of gift expenses by Bechtel to the SGV Group the DOJ stated:

(d) Expenses for gifts or tangible objects of any kind incurred without Bechtel’s prior written approval will be reimbursed only where such expenditures are permitted under the local laws, the ceremonial value of the item exceeds its intrinsic value, the cost of the gift does not exceed $500 per person, and the expense is commensurate with the legitimate and generally accepted local custom for such expenses by private business persons in the country.

Policies and Procedures for Gifts and Business Entertainment

 Gifts to Governmental Officials 

Based upon the FCPA language and relevant Opinion Releases and allowing for inflation over the past 30 years, it would appear reasonable that a Company can provide gifts up to a value of $500. Below are the guidelines which the Opinion Releases would suggest incorporating into a compliance policy regarding gifts:

  • The gift should be provided as a token of esteem, courtesy or in return for hospitality.
  • The gift should be of nominal value but in no case greater than $500.
  • No gifts in cash.
  • The gift shall be permitted under both local law and the guidelines of the employer/governmental agency.
  • The gift should be a value which is customary for country involved and appropriate for the occasion.
  • The gift should be for official use rather than personal use.
  • The gift should showcase the company’s products or contain the company logo.
  • The gift should be presented openly with complete transparency.
  • The expense for the gift should be correctly recorded on the company’s books and records.

Business Entertainment of Governmental Officials 

Based upon FCPA language (there are no Opinion Releases on this point), there is no threshold that a Company can establish a value for business entertainment. However, I believe there are clear guidelines which should be incorporated into your business expenditure policy, which should include the following:

  • A reasonable balance must exist for bona fide business entertainment during an official business trip.
  • All business entertainment expenses must be reasonable.
  • The business entertainment expenses must be permitted under (1) local law and (2) customer guidelines.
  • The business entertainment expense must be commensurate with local custom and practice.
  • The business entertainment expense must avoid the appearance of impropriety.
  • The business entertainment expense must be supported by appropriate documentation and properly recorded on the company’s book and records.

The incorporation of these concepts into a compliance policy is a good first step towards preventing potential violations from arising, but it must be emphasized that they are only a first step. There must be procedures to implement these policies. At a minimum, you must require a business justification from the business representative requesting to provide the gift or business entertainment. Next it should be reviewed and approved by a front-line compliance professional. Then, depending on the amount and nature of the request, it may need CCO approval. Finally, if there is a Compliance Oversight Committee it should go to that Committee for a final check to make sure everything is in order.

These guidelines must be coupled with active training of all personnel, not only on a company’s compliance policy, but also on the corporate and individual consequences that may arise if the FCPA is violated regarding gifts and business entertainment. Lastly, it is imperative that all such gifts and business entertainment be properly recorded, as required by the books and records component of the FCPA.

And, as always, do not forget the gut check test.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Gifts and business entertainment continue to plague companies for compliance violations.
  2. The key is not the amount but of having a policy and procedure and following it.
  3. Always remember to record gifts and business entertainment expenses correctly.

 

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018 I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.

Simply having a Code of Conduct, together with compliance policies and procedures is not enough. As articulated by former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, “Your compliance program is a living entity; it should be constantly evolving.” The 2012 FCPA Guidance stated “When assessing a compliance program, DOJ and SEC will review whether the company Guiding Principles of Enforcement has taken steps to make certain that the code of conduct remains current and effective and whether a company has periodically reviewed and updated its code.” Some of the questions you should consider are:

  • When was the last time your policies and procedures were released or revised?
  • Have there been changes to your company’s internal controls since the last revision?
  • Have there been changes to relevant laws relating to a topic covered in your company’s policies and procedures?
  • Are any of the policies and procedures outdated?
  • What is the budget to create/revise your policies and procedures?

After considering these issues, you should benchmark your current policies and procedures against other companies in your industry. If you decide to move forward, I suggest a process which can be fully documented as a basis to include revisions to your compliance policies and procedures.

Get buy-in from senior leadership of your company 

Your company’s highest level must give the mandate for a revision to compliance policies and procedures. It should be the Chief Executive Officer, General Counsel or Chief Compliance Officer, or better yet all three to mandate this effort. Whoever gives the mandate, this person should be consulted at every major step of the policies and procedures revision process if it involves a change in the direction of key policies.

Establish a core policies and procedures revision committee 

You should have a cross-functional working group would be ideal to head up your effort to revise your compliance policies and procedures. This group should include representatives from the following departments: legal, compliance, communications, HR; there should also be other functions which represent the company’s domestic and international business units; finally, there should be functions within the company represented such as finance and accounting, IT, marketing and sales.

From this large group, the topics can be assigned for initial drafting to functions based on their relevance or necessity. These different functions would also solicit feedback from their functional peers and deliver a final, proposed draft to the Drafting Committee. It is important that you establish a timetable for the revision process and you hold representatives accountable for meeting their revisions.

Conduct a thorough technology assessment 

The cornerstone of the revision process is how your company captures, collaborates and preserves all the comments, notes, edits and decisions during the entire project. In addition to this use of technology in revising your compliance policies and procedures revisions, you should determine if they will be available in hard copy, online or both. There must be a distribution plan, particularly if the Code and compliance policies and procedures will only be available in hard copy.

Determine translations and localizations 

The 2012 Guidance made clear that your compliance policies and procedures must be translated into local language for your non-English speaking workforce. The key is that your employees have the same understanding of the compliance policies and procedures-no matter the language. 

Develop a plan to communicate the revised policies and procedure 

A rollout is always critical because it is important that the revised policies and procedures are communicated in a manner which encourages employees to review and use the policies and procedures on an ongoing basis. Your company should use the full panoply of tools available to it to publicize the revised compliance policies and procedures. This can include a multi-media approach or physically handing out a copy to all employees at a designated time. You might consider having a company-wide compliance policies and procedures meeting where the new or revised documents are rolled out across the company all in one day. But remember, with all thing compliance; the three most important aspects are ‘Document, Document and Document’. However, you deliver the new or revised policies and procedures, you must document that each employee received it.

Stay on Target and Budget 

You should work to set realistic expectations that to stay on deadline and stay within your budget. This is equally applicable to your policy and procedures revision. Also remember to keep a close watch on your budget so that you do not exceed it.

These points are a useful guide to not only thinking through how to determine if your policies and procedure need updating, but also practical steps on how to tackle the problem. If it has been more than five years since it was last updated, you should begin the process now. It is far better to review and update if appropriate than wait for a massive FCPA investigation to go through the process.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. If you have not revised your compliance policies and procedures in the past five years, you should do so no.
  2. Set a timeline and budget and stick to it in the compliance policy and procedure revision process.
  3. Document your process of revision to demonstrate more complete operationalization of your compliance program as set out in the DOJ Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs.

 

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018 I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.

There are numerous reasons to put some serious work into your policies and procedure. They are certainly a first line of defense when the government comes knocking. The 2012 FCPA Guidance made clear that “Whether a company has policies and procedures that outline responsibilities for compliance within the company, detail proper internal controls, auditing practices, and documentation policies, and set forth disciplinary procedures will also be considered by DOJ and SEC.” And by using the word “considered”, it is clear that this means the regulators will take a strong view against a company that does not have well thought out and articulated policies and procedures; all of which are systematically reviewed and updated. Moreover, having policies written out and signed by employees provides what some consider the most vital layer of communication and acts as an internal control Together with a signed acknowledgement, these documents can serve as evidentiary support if a future issue arises. In other words, the ‘Document, Document and Document’ mantra applies just as strongly to this area of anti-corruption compliance.

The specific written policies and procedures required for a best practices compliance program are well known and long established. The 2012 FCPA Guidance stated, “Among the risks that a company may need to address include the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments.” Policies help form the basis of expectation and conduct in your company. Procedures are the documents that implement these standards of conduct.

The role of compliance policies is to protect companies, their stakeholders, including employees, third-parties and others, despite an occasional lapse. A company’s compliance policies provide a basic set of guidelines for employees and others to follow. Compliance policies should give general prescriptions and should be supplemented by more specific procedures. By establishing what is and what is not acceptable ethical and compliant behavior, a company helps mitigate the risks posed by employees who might not always make the right ethical choices.

The Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs builds up on the requirements articulated in the 2012 FCPA Guidance. Under Prong 4, Policies and Procedures it states, Applicable Policies and ProceduresHas the company had policies and procedures that prohibited the misconduct? How has the company assessed whether these policies and procedures have been effectively implemented? How have the functions that had ownership of these policies and procedures been held accountable for supervisory oversight? The Evaluation then goes on to ask about both accessibility and effectiveness of the compliance policies and procedures by stating, Accessibility – How has the company communicated the policies and procedures relevant to the misconduct to relevant employees and third parties? How has the company evaluated the usefulness of these policies and procedures?

Compliance policies do not guarantee employees will always make the right decision. However, the effective implementation and enforcement of compliance policies demonstrate to the government that a company is operating professionally and ethically for the benefit of its stakeholders, its employees and the community it serves.

There are five general elements to a compliance policy. It should stake out the following:

  • identify who the compliance policy applies to;
  • set out what is the objective of the compliance policy;
  • describe why the compliance policy is required;
  • outline examples of both acceptable and unacceptable behavior under the compliance policy; and
  • lay out the specific consequences for failure to comply with the compliance policy.

The Evaluation mandates there must be communication of your compliance policies and procedures throughout the workforce and relevant stakeholders such as third-parties and business venture partners. Compliance training is only one type of communication. I think that this is a key element for compliance practitioners because if you have a 30,000+ worldwide work force, simply the logistics of training can appear daunting. Small groups, where detailed questions about policies can be raised and discussed, can be a powerful teaching tool. Another technique can be the posting FAQ’s in common areas and virtually. Also, having written compliance policies signed by employees provides what some consider the most vital layer of communication. A signed acknowledgement can serve as evidentiary support if a future issue arises. Finally, never forget the example of the Morgan Stanley declination where the recalcitrant employee annually signed such certifications. These signed certifications help Morgan Stanley walk away with a full declination.

The 2012 FCPA Guidance ends its section on policies with the following, “Regardless of the specific policies and procedures implemented, these standards should apply to personnel at all levels of the company.” It is important that compliance policies and procedure are applied fairly and consistently across the organization. The Fair Process Doctrine demonstrates that if compliance policies and procedures are not applied consistently, there is a greater chance that an employee dismissed for breaching a policy could successfully claim he or she was unfairly terminated. This last point cannot be over-emphasized. If an employee is going to be terminated for fudging their expense accounts in Brazil, you had best make sure that same conduct lands your top producer in the US with the same quality of discipline.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. The Code of Conduct, together with written compliance policies and procedures form the backbone of your compliance program.
  2. The DOJ and SEC expect a well-thought out and articulated set of compliance policies and procedures.
  3. The Fair Process Doctrine holds for the application of policies and procedures.

 

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018 I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.

How can you work to operationalize the Code of Conduct as articulated in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs? The Evaluation focuses not on whether a company has a paper compliance program but whether a company is actually doing compliance. A company does compliance by moving it into the functional business units as a part of an overall business process. That is what makes a compliance program effective at the business level. There are several different parts of the Evaluation that touch upon your Code of Conduct.

Prong 2, Senior Leadership and Middle Manage states the following:

Shared Commitment What specific actions have senior leaders and other stakeholders (e.g., business and operational managers, Finance, Procurement, Legal, Human Resources) taken to demonstrate their commitment to compliance, including their remediation efforts? How is information shared among different components of the company? 

The Code of Conduct process should involve these corporate disciplines. Your Code of Conduct should enshrine your company’s values. Those are set by senior management and their input and support for any Code of Conduct project, whether initial draft or update, is critical.

Prong 4, Policies and Procedures states the following:

Designing Compliance Policies and Procedures What has been the company’s process for designing and implementing new policies and procedures? Who has been involved in the design of policies and procedures? Have business units/divisions been consulted prior to rolling them out? 

This question gets to the heart of operationalization and demonstrates how a Code of Conduct can work to meet the DOJ requirements. As an early part of your design and drafting process, you should assemble a cross-functional team. This is important for several reasons. First diversity in your team will help produce a more well-rounded final product. But having such team diversity will also assist in your benchmarking effort, coupled with those who are going to help you out looking at designs and maybe helping forge the design of the Code. Finally, you can use a group to help in the drafting, redrafting and editing process. This diversity will help you to answer all of the three DOJ questions from the Evaluation in a manner consistent to support operationalization.

This project team diversity will also help to operationalize your Code of Conduct after implementation. You will have various business unit members invested in your new or revised Code of Conduct. This ownership will help not only in your internal marketing but demonstrate to employees the commitment to doing business ethically and in compliance to your entire workforce.

Prong 6, Training and Communication, states:

Form/Content/Effectiveness of Training Has the training been offered in the form and language appropriate for the intended audience? How has the company measured the effectiveness of the training?  

There are several different types of training, including live, interactive and online training. But in addition to training, your Code of Conduct can form the basis of ongoing communications throughout the organization. Through a Code of Conduct, a company has acknowledged certain risks and it can communicate those risks through effective use of a Code of Conduct. It can also serve as a jumping off point for training and communications about more focused topics and discussions led by employees outside the compliance department.

You can measure the effectiveness of your training through a variety of mechanisms including knowledge assessments, culture surveys, focus groups, tracking your internal intranet training, reporting of trends and even hotline calls. These techniques can help to drive compliance into the very fabric of your company by operationalizing compliance. Another important consideration around effectiveness for training, and the text of the Code of Conduct, is translations, or as the DOJ stated, “Has the training been offered in the form and language appropriate for the intended audience?”

Three Key Takeaways

  1. What has been the role of senior management in the creation or update of your Code of Conduct?
  2. How have you worked with employees outside the compliance function to lay the groundwork for fully operationalizing your compliance program?
  3. How have your measured the effectiveness of your Code of Conduct training?

 

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018 I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.

What about the training on your finalized Code of Conduct? While there have been criticisms of Code of Conduct training, if you consider training as one source of your 360-degrees of compliance communications, the rollout of a new or updated Code of Conduct can be an opportunity. This rollout fits directly into the concept of 360-degrees of compliance as rollout is part of both communications and engagement. The delivery of a Code of Conduct is a key element of its effectiveness. By allowing your employees and other stakeholders to engage and interact with the Code of Conduct, through live or interactive training, the effectiveness can be better monitored and measured.

In a white paper, entitled “Top 5 Tips for Effective Code of Conduct Revisions, Eric Morehead noted that often companies have a formal launch of the Code of Conduct where senior management and the corporate compliance function “conduct on-site activities across the organization to promote the launch of the new Code, or launch interactive activities such as video competitions that ask stakeholders to such submit short videos on Code topics.” However, this is not the sole manner to have such a rollout as other companies “keep the message more informal but use frequent touchpoints, for example, through email or cascading messages through line managers, to keep up the drumbeat on compliance topics and reinforce the role of compliance.” The key is to exploit on the opportunity a new or revised Code of Conduct gives you to communicate in a 360-degree manner on your compliance program.

One of area in 2017 Department of Justice’s Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs that articulated a new emphasis was in the effectiveness of training. I think everyone would understand you do need to train but now the government’s talking to us about effective training. Begin with live training that can be held at the corporate headquarters with senior management and even executive involvement. Many companies will videotape a message from the CEO to help celebrate the rollout. Then there is the opportunity for localized training that gives employees an opportunity to see, meet, and speak directly with a compliance officer, not an insignificant dynamic in the corporate environment. Such personal training also sends a strong message of commitment to the Code of Conduct. It gives employees the opportunity to interact with the compliance officer by asking questions which are relevant to markets and locations outside the United States, which can often provide employees with the opportunity to have confidential in-person discussions.

An important part of in-person training is the opportunity to interact with the audience through Q&A. There are a couple different approaches to Q&A. The first is to solicit questions from the audience. However, many employees are reluctant, for a variety of different reasons, to raise their hands and ask questions in front of others. This can be overcome by soliciting written questions on cards or note pads. A second technique is to lead the audience through hypothetical examples in which the audience is broken down into small discussion groups (up to five people) to discuss a situation and propose a response. However, with a worldwide, multi thousand-person workforce with multiple languages, an entire Code of Conduct roll-out based on live training may not be feasible.

Not surprisingly, and one of the key themes in compliance, is to understand your company and tailor your compliance program, including your Code of Conduct training, for your audience. Companies have to consider their audience when considering drafting the Code of Conduct, the kind of tone it is going to have, how long it is going to be and topics you are going to cover in the Code of Conduct; the same analysis is true for your training.

Most organizations put together custom training for their Code of Conduct rollout. Live training is generally viewed to be the most effective with online training next in effectiveness. One technique which as gained traction is a modular approach where you might identify 10 key risk areas and train on each in 10 minute segments throughout the year, one per month. This drives engagement and lessons complaints that employees have to take an entire hour for such training.

Another mechanism is more interactive training. When audience members are required to answer questions on an ongoing basis it can foster more engagement. It can also help to meet the DOJ requirement to demonstrate the effectiveness of training. Of course, gamification which is another form of interactivity and it has become more popular over the last few years. It also has the advantage of more favor with millennial members of the workforce.

However, your Code of Conduct training should be an extension of the way you communicate compliance in your organization. If it is divorced from your 360-degrees of compliance communications style, you may well be missing an opportunity to drive better understanding of the Code of Conduct and denigrate the effectiveness of the training. Whatever approach is used, one of the critical factors is the length of time of the training session. Although lawyers and ethics and compliance professionals can (sometimes) sit through a multi-hour Code of Conduct, it is almost impossible to keep the attention of business and operations employees for such a length of time. The presentation and number of PowerPoint slides must be kept to a manageable length before the attendee’s eyes start to glaze over.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Consider a video message from your CEO to help roll out your Code of Conduct initiation or update.
  2. Tailor your Code of Conduct training to your workforce.
  3. Consider interactive and modular approaches to Code of Conduct training.

 

This month’s sponsor is the Doing Compliance Master Class. In 2018, I am partnering with Jonathan Marks and Marcum LLC to put on training. Look for dates of one of the top compliance related training going forward.