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  • Writer's pictureRichard Bistrong

Using a Human Rights Lens to Strengthen Your Anti-Corruption Compliance Program

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Today’s guest blog is by Sarah Altschuller. Sarah is an attorney in the Corporate Social Responsibility practice at Foley Hoag LLP, where she is the editor and primary author of the “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Law” blog.  In 2017, Sarah was the only U.S.-based attorney recognized by Chambers Global in its first-ever ranking of law firms advising on business and human rights concerns.

Companies are increasingly expected to manage the human rights impacts of their activities.  This expectation is embedded in new legislative requirements, in the requirements of business partners and investors, and in the demands of consumers. In this context, more and more companies are adopting human rights policies, expressing a commit to operate with respect for the rights of those impacted by their business operations.

As companies seek to understand emerging human rights expectations, in-house personnel dedicated to the implementation of anti-corruption compliance programs may be left out of the conversation.  This is a missed opportunity as corporate anti-corruption efforts are integral to a company’s capacity to operate with respect for human rights.  Unfortunately, this linkage may not be well understood, leading to duplicative and siloed programmatic efforts that fail to leverage corporate resources effectively.

At the same time, it is undeniable that corruption and abuse of human rights are closely linked. In a December 2016 announcement launching the first U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct, Secretary of State John Kerry observed that “[c]orruption enables the abuse of human rights, erodes democratic institutions, fuels organized crime and terrorism, and contributes to economic inequality.”  In this context, there is much to be gained — both by companies and their stakeholders — through appropriate integration of corporate human rights efforts and anti-corruption compliance programs.

Practical Benefits to Integration

Given the close links between corruption and human rights concerns, corporate due diligence efforts to address these related challenges often seek to assess the same concerns:

  1. What are the operative legal environments in which a company is conducting its business? Are laws well enforced in those countries or regions?

  2. Who are a company’s business partners and suppliers? What due diligence can be done on the reputation and trustworthiness of those entities?

  3. Which external stakeholders may have information relevant to a company’s consideration of the potential legal and reputational risks associated with its operations?

Each of these considerations is equally relevant to an evaluation of the corruption- and human rights-related risks associated with a company’s potential or current operations.

At the same time, there are concerns that social compliance personnel may be primarily responsible for which may be overlooked in the context of existing anti-corruption efforts.  For example:

  1. Due diligence with regard to the human rights records of contracted security providers may reveal corruption-related risks in the screening and hiring of personnel;

  2. Evaluations of potential building safety concerns in the context of audits of suppliers’ factories may determine that corruption concerns undermine the integrity of existing permitting processes; and

  3. Assessments with regard to potential labor trafficking in corporate supply chains may uncover corruption in the context of the hiring and transport of workers.

Internal anti-corruption efforts will only be strengthened by ensuring that appropriate communication channels exist to ensure that all appropriate personnel are aware of the types of concerns highlighted above.  This will enhance a company’s capacity to manage significant risks and reduce the potential for wasted resources.

Motivational Benefits to Integration

Beyond the immediate practical benefits of improved internal coordination, corporate anti-corruption personnel may find more motivational benefits from understanding the human rights concerns associated with their compliance efforts.  Unfortunately, the societal benefits that depend on day-to-day compliance efforts can be lost in the management of checklists and performance reviews.

If employees understand corporate anti-corruption compliance efforts as fundamental to a company’s capacity to operate with respect for, and promote, human rights, this can infuse individual compliance responsibilities with a new level of intrinsic motivation.  Ultimately, each of us wants to believe that our daily task lists are consistent with our values.   Companies should therefore take the time to ensure that human rights policies and commitments are communicated not just to external audiences and social compliance personnel but also to the many employees who help implement corporate anti-corruption commitments.

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