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  • Writer's pictureRichard Bistrong

Talking About Bribery in the Country Where I Bribed

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

I recently returned from a week in Amsterdam, addressing front-line compliance challenges, and attending several anti-corruption conferences. It was a surreal experience for me, for in 2003 I paid a “Dutch Agent approximately $15,000 based on an invoice for marketing services knowing that the Dutch agent would then pass all or some of that money to (a) Dutch Procurement Officer.” That’s right from my “Statement of the Offense” as part of my US Plea Agreement. And as I would share throughout the week, including during my ‘fireside chat’ with Geert Vermeulen, Ethics & Compliance Management & Consulting as part of  our presentation to a large multinational (pictured), is there really such a place where there’s no risk? As I often ask, did the Dutch police make anyone’s risk map last year, or ever?

But later in  the week, at the Corporate Parity Anti-Corruption Conference, where I was a co-panelist in two sessions, and listened to two days of engaging presentations, one question resonated the most: “How do we know what we expect to be happening is actually happening?” It’s the ultimate compliance question, as trying to get to “what we don’t know.” Over the course of the conference, a few recommendations, in summary form, that I found inspiring were:

  1. ‘Lean-in’ and find the disconnects in your program and communications. They are there, so ask your teams on the front-lines for their input. It’s helpful to accept that messages which might seem simple and straightforward at HQ,  could be confusing or ambiguous in the field, where local  cultures can often seem to conflict with the rules. By talking to those on the front-lines, and holding yourself out as a leader who seeks out weak points through healthy feedback, you’re going to better “get to what you don’t know.” And when that happens, those disconnects and weak-point are being continually addressed and mitigated. It’s not a ‘one time’ exercise.

  2. Think outside the Compliance Box and Look at Existing Resources That Can Be Leveraged. Are business leaders driving the commitment and adherence to long-term sustainable and ethical business practices? Are their messages geared to the tasks at hand for those in the workforce, or ambiguous? Are you engaging your marketing department to help you deliver the right messages to the right people, and to make sure that compliance, ethical and integrity  messages support people in how they engage in the field? In other words, are you enlisting your communication teams to promote and amplify how compliance initiatives get operationalized? Marketing teams are communications subject matter experts, so why not get them involved?

  3. Codes and Polices Can’t Fix Everything. Policies and procedures don’t provide the answers to every problem that commercial teams face. Try to focus on what you are trying to strengthen, and the values you want your company to run on. Then make sure those values don’t stop at regional level management, which is where compliance programs and ethics often get discarded to the exigencies of business growth. Make sure your workforce knows the definition of what ‘success’ means in your organization, and that compliance training is not a “bolt on set of policies and procedures” (Alison Taylor), to be tolerated with a view that once completed, it’s time to “get back to making money,” as shared by Leonard McCarthy, Integrity Vice President of the World Bank Group, during his keynote address at the Corporate Parity conference.

These are but only a few best-practices and learning moments from my week in Amsterdam. In closing, I would like to thank Gert Vermeulen, Adrianna Lee (International Conference Production Manager, Corporate Parity), Patrick Rappo (Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP), Wendy Addison (Founder, SpeakOut SpeakUp) and Nick Rowell (Chief Compliance Officer, Acacia Mining Plc), all for making the week so engaging.  And a final heartfelt thanks to Transparency International Netherlands, for inviting me to address their Annual Meeting, where they launched “Behind the Scenes, Beneficial Ownership in the Netherlands”) link here.  It was an honor to address their leadership and attendees from throughout both Dutch industry and local Compliance thought leaders.

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