Search

Editors

Richard L. Cassin Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman Senior Editor

Elizabeth K. Spahn Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn Contributing Editor

Bill Waite Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong Contributing Editor 

Eric Carlson Contributing Editor

Bill Steinman Contributing Editor

Aarti Maharaj Contributing Editor


FCPA Blog Daily News

Entries in Small Companies (3)

Monday
Feb252008

A Little Help From Our Friends

Our subject is always some aspect of the the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. So around here the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission get lots of attention. But another U.S. government agency has a role to play in the FCPA -- the Department of Commerce. Its mission is "to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce" of the United States. It does that by helping -- that's right, helping -- American companies do business overseas. And what interests us is how Commerce helps U.S. companies comply with the FCPA.

First, some background. The Department of Commerce concentrates most of its efforts on small and medium sized U.S. exporters. That makes sense. According to a 2004 USTR fact sheet, in the United States small and medium sized businesses make up almost 97% of all direct exporters, and approximately 65% of exporters are businesses with fewer than 20 employees. As our readers know, smaller companies with fewer resources struggle to comply with the FCPA. Big companies aren't excluded from Commerce's programs, but they usually know how to do buisness overseas and comply with the FCPA, and they have the resources to do so on their own. So it's the smaller companies that need the most help. With that in mind, let's see what Commerce has to offer.

Finding a partner. The Department of Commerce helps U.S. companies find business partners or agents overseas. Its Commercial Service -- a group of trade and business experts stationed in about 80 U.S. embassies around the globe -- runs the International Partner Search Program. It actually identifies suitable strategic partners for U.S. exporters. As Commerce says, "You provide your marketing materials and background on your company, and the [Commercial Service] will use its strong network of foreign contacts to interview potential partners and provide you with a list of up to five pre-qualified partners. This information is available in 30 days or less."

Vetting the candidate. Once a potential overseas partner or agent is found, either through Commerce or otherwise, it's time for some compliance-oriented due diligence. As we've said before, international joint venture partners and sales agents bring very high risks under the FCPA. Unreliable partners and agents -- those who might pay bribes to foreign officials to help the business -- need to be spotted early and either avoided or controlled. Doing that requires due diligence. And here again Commerce can help.

The Commercial Service's International Company Profile (ICP) Program provides background reports on foreign companies in about 80 countries. The price is reasonable -- around $500 per ICP, depending somewhat on local costs. Be warned, however, that the Commercial Service doesn’t offer ICPs in countries where Dun & Bradstreet or other private-sector vendors already provide a similar service. But where ICPs are available, the Commercial Service specialists deliver a product that helps satisfy at least the basic level of due diligence.

International Company Profiles are assembled by combing the local press, industry contacts and other sources. The result is a financial report on the prospective overseas partner or agent. Some ICPs are more detailed than others, depending on both the amount of information ultimately available and on the resourcefulness of the local Commerce specialist. Delivery time is advertised to be about 10 business days. The final report includes "a list of the company's key officers and senior management, banking relationships and other financial information about the company; and market information, including sales and profit figures, and potential liabilities."

Uncle Sam's opinion. Crucial to FCPA due diligence, the Commercial Service will also provide "an opinion as to the viability and reliability of the overseas company or individual you have selected as well as an opinion on the relative strength of that company's industry sector in your target market." It's not called an FCPA due diligence opinion, but that's practically what it amounts to. Sure, there are lots of scenarios by which a "reliable" overseas partner or agent might still cause FCPA problems. But the International Company Profile and the viability and reliability opinion are great evidence. They demonstrate how the U.S. company tried to pick a law-abiding foreign partner or agent. In most cases, evidence like that goes a long way to protecting U.S. companies and executives who find out later that an overseas intermediary may have caused an FCPA violation.

Our recommendation. We've dealt with people from the Commercial Service in a number of countries. Overall, the specialists are unabashed boosters of American business overseas. They have impressive, even astounding knowledge about local markets, and they're resourceful as well. We've met some with a great sense of humor, which is a welcome relief in countries in transition and under stress.

In fact, we can't think of any reason why straight-shooting smaller companies shouldn't check in with a Commercial Service specialist -- either in the U.S. or the country of destination. There are literally hundreds of Commercial Service offices -- across the U.S. from Akron to Ypsilanti, and around the world from Albania to Zimbabwe. The chats are free and may ultimately contribute richly to successful overseas business development and effective FCPA compliance.

__________________

A special acknowledgment to Kathryn Nickerson, Senior Counsel, Office of the Chief Counsel for International Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce, for some of the information and ideas in this post. See her speech to the American Bar Association, National Institute of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Special Focus: Issues Faced By Small and Medium Enterprises, Washington, D.C., October 17, 2006 here.

_________________

View the Department of Commerce's International Company Profile Program here.

Monday
Oct082007

Compliance Guidelines

Many come to The FCPA Blog seeking compliance guidelines. That's good, because our aim is to help people comply with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Some seekers, however, have noticed that our posts and resources don't include any out-of-the-box compliance programs, at least not yet. A number of specimens are available on the Internet, of course, and a Google search will turn up at least a half dozen programs already used by well-known companies.

But The FCPA Blog doesn't want to mislead anyone into thinking that a model program always equals model compliance. It doesn't. Compliance is a matter of substance, not form, and springs from management's commitment to obey the law. A compliance culture protects against FCPA disasters; model programs adopted for their good looks do not. Camouflaging a cultural bald spot with a compliance toupee broadcasts that the effort is a cover-up and a sham. It can do more harm than good. But we digress.

We meant to say that those seeking compliance guidelines often arrive here from small private companies, doing business internationally for the first time. Where should they start? A good place is the "Lay Person's Guide to FCPA." It's a plain-English explanation of the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions from the U.S. Department of Justice. And it's written especially for "potential exporters and small businesses that are unable to obtain specialized counsel on issues related to the FCPA." Another good resource -- although a bit more technical -- is Chapter 8, Part B of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines. It describes what it takes to have an effective compliance and ethics program, and how small companies can leverage the tools on hand to meet the requirements. Finally, visitors are always welcome to contact The FCPA Blog and our sponsor for more help.

View the "Lay Person's Guide to FCPA" Here.

View Chapter 8, Part B of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Here.

View the Post "FCPA Compliance For Small Companies" Here.

Sunday
Aug192007

FCPA Compliance For Small Companies

"Small Organizations.—In meeting the requirements [for an effective compliance program under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines], small organizations shall demonstrate the same degree of commitment to ethical conduct and compliance with the law as large organizations. However, a small organization may meet the requirements . . . with less formality and fewer resources than would be expected of large organizations. In appropriate circumstances, reliance on existing resources and simple systems can demonstrate a degree of commitment that, for a large organization, would only be demonstrated through more formally planned and implemented systems.

"Examples of the informality and use of fewer resources with which a small organization may meet the requirements . . . include the following: (I) the governing authority’s discharge of its responsibility for oversight of the compliance and ethics program by directly managing the organization’s compliance and ethics efforts; (II) training employees through informal staff meetings, and monitoring through regular 'walk-arounds' or continuous observation while managing the organization; (III) using available personnel, rather than employing separate staff, to carry out the compliance and ethics program; and (IV) modeling its own compliance and ethics program on existing, well-regarded compliance and ethics programs and best practices of other similar organizations."

(emphasis added)

Quoted from the 2005 U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Chapter 8, Part B, §8B2.1., Effective Compliance and Ethics Program, Commentary Application Note 2 (c) (iii).


View Chapter 8, Part B of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Here.