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Top-down approach needed for anti-corruption programs

|Written By Kelly Harris

Corporate buy-in to anti-corruption and anti-bribery programs demands a top-down approach and ongoing training, say counsel from General Electric Canada and energy giant Nexen Inc.

Martin Mueller, vice president and chief compliance counsel at Calgary’s Nexen, and Bruce Futterer, vice president and general counsel with GE Canada, led a presentation on building corporate compliance during the Second Canadian Forum on Bribery and Foreign Corruption, Compliance and Enforcement held in Toronto last week.

The conference, sponsored in part by Canadian Lawyer and Canadian Lawyer InHouse magazines, featured presentations looking at preventing improper payments to foreign officials in the face of increased international enforcement.

“Compliance in any organization begins at the top,” says Futterer. Adding, when he joined GE Canada, he was informed of the company’s “one strike and you’re out policy” in relation to corruption and bribery matters.

Futterer spoke of the challenges faced by GE, a company with more than 350,000 employees in more than 100 countries. He says GE employs an ongoing training strategy with annual compliance reviews overseen by the chief executive officer, general counsel, and chief compliance officer.

“Everyone needs to be alive to the risks and identify them anyway they can,” says Futterer.

The legal team at GE has “policy owners” for high-risk areas who conduct an “open mic” monthly conference call with concerned business units and employees. There is also an ombudsman network with local overseers who have language proficiencies and are culturally sensitive.

Mueller also spoke of the cultural aspects of corporate buy-in to an anti-bribery and anti-corruption program. In this case, however, he spoke of corporate culture, saying, “each company has their own culture, and each company has different ways of operating.”

To build the corporate culture, Mueller says, employees need to be supported by management when bringing forward real or perceived issues. The tone needs to be reinforced by senior managers, and the entire group needs to show the value of their actions.

Training employees can depend on the exposure they have to the possibility of corruption and bribery, Mueller says, adding, “you have to set up your training program to make sure it fits your risk.”

These programs go beyond general awareness, and include code of conduct training, employee integrity training, and “on-boarding.” A risk-based training analysis can lead to specialized training in areas such as financial forensics.

Again, says Mueller, it is important senior management and the board of directors also receive the training in order for them to be part of the oversight function. As a general rule, he says, senior management can help create a course of direction for the entire company in this regard.

“If you have strong corporate ethics programs, people will buy in to it,” Mueller says.