Foreign Corruption

Corruption Crack-Down

Governments around the globe step up efforts to wipe out corruption.
By: | October 15, 2013 • 7 min read

Around the world, social pressure against public corruption is resulting in huge demonstrations, investigations and legislation. And that is rebounding on multinationals that face their own pressure to keep business above board while trying to expand in countries where bribery is often necessary to get permits and permission.

A survey of CFOs and board members by Ernst & Young found that 95 percent of the respondents were “very” or “fairly” concerned about the potential liability resulting from fraud and corruption in Latin America — the area that offers the most concern.

Not far below were the Middle East and Africa, at 87 percent, and Central and Eastern Europe, at 84 percent.

While laws are almost universally clear — don’t do it — the risks are increasingly complex, as anti-corruption laws and their enforcement evolve both in the United States and overseas.

In the United States, investigators appear to be scouring industries that traditionally have not attracted notice, according to attorneys and experts in the field.

Retailers have been in the spotlight, for instance, ever since news surfaced in April 2012 of a probe into Wal-Mart. The retail giant is alleged to have paid bribes in Mexico to speed growth there.

Enforcement is intensifying in other countries as well, pushed along by public protests as well as by an anti-bribery convention overseen by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty countries, including Argentina, Russia and South Africa, have signed the OECD convention since it was drafted in 1997.

Today, more than 300 investigations are underway in 24 countries, according to Patrick Moulette, head of the OECD’s anti-corruption division. “It has not doubled from last year or the year before, but it’s 10 or 20 more every year, so maybe this is a positive sign,” said Moulette, who hopes greater attention will spur countries to crack down harder.

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Other nations, notably China, are dusting off their own anti-bribery laws, exposing U.S. companies to potentially costly legal action on new fronts.

“It’s very hard to find a country anywhere where bribery is legal,” said Brian Loughman, Americas leader for Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services with Ernst & Young. “The challenge is always, what’s the enforcement like.”

To top it off, foreign prosecutors today are more likely to share information with their U.S. counterparts. “The world is smaller for prosecutors, too,” Loughman said.

For decades, U.S. companies only had to worry about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, or FCPA, which bans bribery of public officials in other countries. American executives often complain they are disadvantaged by the statute, as it does not apply to businesses based outside the United States.

Enforcement eventually prompted stronger controls and tougher policies, but investigators remain aggressive, according to Michael Himmel, an attorney and chair of the litigation and white-collar criminal defense departments at the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.

“More and more cases are being investigated, and prosecutors are tending to take harder lines,” said Himmel. Over the last five years, he said, investigators have asked companies to open up more of their operations to review. “That’s obviously going to be a greater expense,” he said.

Equal Opportunity Scrutiny

Investigators also seem to be eyeing new sectors, expanding beyond defense, energy and mining to include pharmaceuticals and retail.

It’s a costly occurrence for the probed companies. The ongoing probe into Wal-Mart so far has cost the company more than $150 million, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC and the Department of Justice, which enforce the FCPA, do not explicitly target industries, said Timothy P. Peterson, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Murphy & McGonigle. But as investigators dig into one company’s operations, they may follow a trail to others in the same sector.

“The real danger for retailers is that when there are very large investigations, the government is going to start to get familiar with how that business works,” Peterson said. “They may, as they get more familiar with the business, decide they want to find more companies that operate in a similar way.”

It’s not just government investigators. Corporate rivals are another source of FCPA-related allegations, said Brett W. Johnson, a partner in the Phoenix office of law firm Snell & Wilmer. Companies may arouse suspicion if they are moving goods or opening stores more quickly than competitors, especially in countries where corruption is considered rife.

“The default is, ‘He’s paying somebody off,’ ” Johnson said.

For retailers, corruption risks extend throughout the supply chain, and they are compounded by the pressure to stock shelves in time to meet buyers’ needs. Bathing suits don’t sell well in November, at least in the northern hemisphere.

“Keeping the supply chain flowing is critical to a retailer, especially one that has any kind of seasonality,” said Randy Stephens, vice president of the Ethical Leadership Group of NAVEX Global Inc., a compliance technology firm based in Portland, Ore.

Foreign customs officials often recognize the time pressure — and the power it can give them to demand bribes, Stephens said.

“If you give them the sense that you’re going to participate in that scheme, at any level, you only open yourself up to more trouble, because you look like somebody who’s going to play that game,” Stephens said.

In addition to training employees and establishing clear policies, retailers need to examine internal incentives, Stephens said. If executives overseas are rewarded solely for growing revenue, opening more stores or hitting other bottom-line goals, they may overstep ethical boundaries.

Compensation should be tied, in part, to actions that avoid fines, penalties or stains on a company’s global reputation, Stephens said.

“You’ve got to be willing to let people make decisions that could negatively impact your supply chain, yet comply with the law.”

Another risk arises from the use of third-party agents, a requirement for doing business in some nations. When those agents pay bribes to expedite deals, the U.S. business is on the hook for any FCPA violations.

As a result, companies seeking overseas growth must know their foreign business partners and regularly audit their operations, as well as know the country’s laws and norms.

“You’ve got to be willing to let people make decisions that could negatively impact your supply chain, yet comply with the law.” —Randy Stephens, vice president, Ethical Leadership Group of NAVEX Global Inc.

What’s legal in one country may not be legal in another. And companies can no longer focus on the FCPA alone, attorneys said.

A Tangled Web of Compliance

The United Kingdom adopted a tough anti-bribery statute in 2011. And Brazil enacted a stringent new law this year, following public protests that coalesced around government corruption. In addition to increased penalties, the law allows companies to be found guilty of bribing public officials. Previously, only individuals could be found guilty of that crime.

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“Very few companies today can comply, or attempt to comply, with just one home jurisdiction,” said Michel Léonard, chief economist and senior vice president of Emerging Markets for Alliant. “It’s a bit like antitrust laws. These days, mergers need to be approved in the U.S. and Europe as well.”

Experts said U.S. companies should partner with local attorneys who can can train employees, navigate the nuances of a country’s laws, and react quickly to problems.

“You’re not going to have the same processes; you’re not going to have the same protections,” said Joe Martini, co-chair of the White-Collar Defense, Investigations and Corporate Compliance Practice Group at the law firm of Wiggin and Dana.

Given the potential costs of an investigation, specialized insurance coverage is the next step in corporate compliance, said Machua Millett, a senior vice president with Marsh USA Inc. The brokerage firm introduced a specialized product in 2011.

In the past, Millett said, companies sought coverage for FCPA-related expenses under D&O policies. But underwriters and carriers hesitated, due to the size of the potential exposure.

Cooperation with the government does not necessarily lessen the expense. Although Ralph Lauren Corp. voluntarily disclosed bribes made by a subsidiary in Argentina, it still faced a penalty of $882,000.

Companies should focus first on compliance, with insurance as a backstop, Millett said. “At the end of the day, you might be able to show that you acted well.”

Joel Berg is a freelance writer and adjunct writing teacher based in York, Pa. He has covered business and regulatory issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]