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Anti Bribery Compliance Tactics Learned Behind Bars | 6 Ways to Protect Your Front-Line Employees from Temptation (Part 3)

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Anti Bribery Compliance Tactics Learned Behind Bars | 6 Ways to Protect Your Front-Line Employees from Temptation (Part 3)

“Bribery is a crime of opportunity,” says Matt Ellis, author of How to Pay a Bribe. Two parties in the right place at the right time could convince themselves that the benefits of any deal far outweigh the risks and consequences of getting caught.

This intersection is where well-meaning employees can inadvertently cross the line. Employees may find themselves in an atmosphere of temptation and pressure from multiple areas. They could be working in a culture in which bribes are considered a normal part of doing business. Furthermore, your own corporate culture could contribute to pressure by emphasizing sales and performance to a degree that leads employees to believe you’d prefer the revenue over ethical behavior.

Richard Bistrong spent many years on the front lines of international business and understands this struggle all too well. His actions there led him to eventually cooperate with US and UK law enforcement for 5 years and serve 14 months in prison for violating the FCPA.

In a recent webcast, Richard shared some proactive measures the compliance function can take to make your company’s culture less confusing for employees in order to ensure that spoken and unspoken organizational messages all align with anti bribery compliance.

You can find the first four suggestions in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

5. Clean Up Your Language

“Making people happy” and “paying tolls” are two entries in the colorful dictionary of the language of bribery. Many employees work in a company where there’s a culture against whistleblowing, and therefore think, “This is only a red flag if I make it one.”

Unfortunately, as Richard shared, “Bribery is not a one-size-fits-all model.” It’s never as obvious as big bags of cash changing hands, he says, it’s subtle; it’s language and getting comfortable. This is where Richard first confronted corruption – he started to participate in overseas corruption, simply by head-nodding.

“When I first started working overseas, intermediaries were sharing with me that they were bribing, using many words other than ‘bribe,’ but not asking me for anything. They were just letting me know that to win tenders they were intertwining legitimate and corrupt services. That was how I first started to confront corruption, and ‘nodded’ my way as a co-conspirator to violating the FCPA.”

Richard Bistrong, FCPA & Anti-Bribery Compliance Consultant
Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC

So, how does one avoid becoming a co-conspirator by falling into a “getting used to it” mentality that opens the way to greater corrupt thinking and subverts the company’s expectations of behavior?

If It Quacks Like a Bribe, Then It’s a Bribe

Sugar-coated language can deceive the average careful, conscientious employee into violating compliance laws. This is where good habits built in to workplace culture have the most power; word-policing seems like a nit-picky thing to do, but one has to think about who is supplying the front-line employees with information. Putting yourself into the mindset of employees’ experiences is the most powerful way to understand and combat culture from the ground up.

Just like police forces on their own may never succeed in eliminating crime, compliance rules and departments alone may never ensure appropriate behavior in relation to integrity and governance, at least on a sustainable basis. Rules and regulations will always lag innovation; employees can always collude to subvert controls; on the other hand, a corporate culture founded on values and integrity is more likely to [consistently] produce right choices by employees as individuals and groups even when no one is watching, with compliance checks as a complementary layer of verification. (Integrity, culture and compliance)

Opeyemi Agbaje, Contributor
Business Day

A webcast participant asked about Richard’s stance on facilitation payments which provided a perfect example of the issue with language and not calling something what it truly is. “Facilitation payments are requests for small bribes. Just treat them as such.” The more focus on trying to find a way around compliance, the more peril there is. While Richard stresses that his is not a legal perspective, his opinion is that facilitation payment exceptions are pretty unique to the U.S. and we need to consider how this exception might impact the thinking at the front lines. Richard thinks “the healthiest front-line perspective is to think of a facilitation payment as a bribe and put the legal issue aside.”

6. Define Your Tipping Points

In the webcast, Jimmy Lin – facilitator from The Network – and Richard described all of these covert conversations and hidden languages as “a bunch of small gray clouds.” There is a thin line between getting close and getting too comfortable with third parties and intermediaries, especially when there are no witnesses. Rules for navigating those relationships are not always clearly defined, which leaves front-line employees vulnerable to trespassing unknowingly into non-compliant territory.

Look carefully at the relationships between third parties and employees. While you want to be culturally sensitive, going on holidays and spending extensive time together could be an indicator of numerous red flags.

Richard Bistrong, FCPA & Anti-Bribery Compliance Consultant
Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC

Front-line teams tend to embrace the adage that bribes are “win-win situations,” and use that as justification for unethical decisions. As Richard role-played, “My company gets the sale, I make my bonus, the third party’s happy and the undercompensated public official also gets something to make ends meet. Who’s really getting hurt here?”

Gaze Into Your Crystal Ball

The truth is that there are many victims of corruption. The compliance function holds the responsibility to communicate the societal and economic consequences of bribery as to deepen the understanding of why it is imperative “to say no.” Thieves of State (Sarah Chayes) discusses the effects on society that stem from acute cases of corruption. Social breakdowns are direct results of poor governance, and very often these regimes function as “criminal enterprises” where public officials buy their way into certain roles knowing that bribes will be collected as a result of their demands.

To illustrate the perils of front-line thinking, Richard’s presentation defined the “perfect storm” during which, at the intersection of all paths, an employee is exposed to and might think about acting corruptly. By choosing to address these issues, the CCO is able to greatly influence the course of the front-line decision-making, and to provide tipping points which all lead to ethical decisions and behavior.

You can fix what you know, and understanding the real-world corruption challenges which overseas business teams face in their work, can then help you to be a partner in developing and calibrating compliance tools to help them manage and mitigate those risks.

Richard Bistrong, FCPA & Anti-Bribery Compliance Consultant
Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC


So, it’s all about prediction. Francesca Gino’s Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan addresses the psychology of making decisions and why our decisions go off course. A good compliance officer seeks to understand those behavioral dynamics and to protect their employees from ethical peril. As Scott Killingsworth, Partner, Bryan Cave, shared in Ethikos, compliance officers need to “know what actually happens in the head of the salesperson at the crossroads when the fateful bargain is offered and a decision must be made on the spot.”

Now that you know what they face in the field after you follow the steps outlined in Part 1 and Part 2, you’ve had open conversations with your sales teams and have a better understanding of what the tipping points leading to unethical behavior may be. This understanding allows you to create more targeted training and communications programs to specifically address these scenarios. Let your employees know what the dangers of different business environments may be and address the points at which they might be likely to struggle. By discussing those situations before they are encountered, the tipping points become less of an influence as your front-line employees become more grounded and confident in their decision-making.

Next Steps

If you would like to hear more of what Richard had to say about what he’s learned from his experience, be sure to download the Behind the Bribe Webcast to watch on-demand. If you’re more interested in Richard’s take on international compliance, I encourage you to download his whitepaper, Behind the Bribe: What Compliance Officers Can Learn From A First Hand Account Of The Dark Side Of International Business for more of an inside look at his suggestions for global compliance.

In the meantime, consider joining us in New York on July 23rd when Richard Bistrong will speak at a complimentary half-day event with the former US/UN Prosecutor who launched the investigation into his case, Robert Appleton.

Share Your Thoughts With Us

What kinds of euphemisms for unethical behavior does your sales team face in the field? How do you talk to your employees about their tipping point situations? You can join the conversation by commenting on the blog, messaging us on JDSupra or messaging me directly on LinkedIn.

Richard Bistrong is CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. He consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues from his experience as an international sales VP and conviction for violating the FCPA, where he pleaded guilty and served fourteen and a half months in prison. He can be reached via his website, Twitter and e-mail.

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About the Author

Paige Pulaski, Marketing Programs Coordinator. Paige assists with the coordination, communication and execution of all company campaigns and events at The Network. Aside from contributing content, Paige cares for cross-stitching, craft brews, cooking and cats.

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