Cross-border business is ripe for corruption. The best way to address corruption issues is to be prepared in advance. Put in place a robust anti-bribery policy and procedures, set clear expectations for personnel, and remove or minimize perverse incentives. Let employees and representatives know that your company really means what the policy says, and give them direct access to compliance professionals. Become aware of local laws, regulations, and business environment. Find local trusted compliance champions to help navigate the complexities of foreign markets.
If you do receive a bribe request, follow a STAR approach:
STOP. Don’t agree to a bribe: even small bribes tend to snowball. Don’t make hasty decisions or seek shortcuts. If a bribe has already been offered, take steps to stop it. Give the bribe taker an opportunity to stop and reconsider (“Are you asking me for a bribe?” or “I’ll have to discuss this with my management”).
THINK …TALK. Consult company policy and procedures. Involve your management, legal and compliance departments. When unclear, determine whether the request is indeed legal and appropriate. Strategize on the best approach.
ACT. Say “No.” Ask to speak to their manager or supervisor. Make it relatable (“I will lose my job” or “U.S. companies are under a microscope from U.S. authorities for overseas bribes”). Be clear that you can only resolve the issue through legal and ethical means. Explain why the bribe taker should care – mention aggressive enforcement by U.S. and local authorities, scrutiny by the media, large fines and prison terms. Deflect – blame strict internal controls, lawyers, internal audit, your boss, etc. for your inflexible no-bribes stance. Seek help from the local American Chamber of Commerce, Business Ombudsman, U.S. Commercial Service, or local government hotlines or law enforcement.
REFLECT. Keep detailed records and supporting documentation. Draw lessons from the incident to avoid similar requests in the future.
Illya Antonenko, Data Protection Officer and Counsel for TRACE, a globally recognized anti-bribery business organization. Prior to joining TRACE, Mr. Antonenko practiced law for fifteen years in a number of leading U.S. law firms and in-house. His practice included assisting clients with FCPA compliance matters and investigations, cross-border transactions, and general corporate issues.
Contributors and Writers are members and associates of the MD/ DC District Export Council. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the MD/DC DEC.