Key issues: Bribery and corruption

Bribery and corruption risk continues to be a big issue for companies despite the fact the number of reported incidents and regulatory enforcement declined year over year in 2012. The US Department of Justice has noted that staffing for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prosecutions is at the highest level ever. Also, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now has an FCPA unit.

In 2012, there were more than $260 million in FCPA penalties, with an average penalty of $21.7 million, according to the international law firm of Shearman & Sterling. Also, there were fewer new cases against individuals than in the previous year; the government brought 12 FCPA enforcement actions against corporations.

The FCPA anti-bribery provisions prohibit US companies and citizens -- and certain foreign issuers of securities -- from making corrupt payments to foreign government officials to help obtain or retain business. They also apply to foreign firms and people acting in furtherance of such payments while in the US.

The enforcement framework of the FCPA is derived from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which require companies to exercise due diligence to prevent and detect criminal conduct and to promote a culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to comply with the law.

Regulators not only pursue violators but have also been targeting personnel within a company who are responsible for internal controls related to the prevention of bribery and corruption. Directors are not necessarily immune from scrutiny, as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines state that a board must "exercise reasonable oversight with respect to the implementation and effectiveness of the compliance and ethics program."

In 2012, the SEC and the DOJ issued a Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that addresses a wide variety of topics covered by the act, including the definition of a foreign official, what constitutes proper and improper gifts, travel and entertainment expenses, facilitating payments and how successor liability applies in mergers and acquisitions.

With recent allegations of fraud at high-profile companies, the introduction of the UK Bribery Act, and new SEC whistleblower rules, directors are increasingly concerned about deterring illegal behaviour. According to the 934 directors responding to PwC’s 2013 Annual Corporate Directors Survey 1:

  • Boards have taken substantive steps to oversee the reduction of fraud risk, with three-fourths of directors saying there was a change to their approach in 2013.
  • Nearly two-thirds of directors say their boards have held additional discussions about the “tone at the top” of the company as part of their focus on mitigating fraud risks, a 14% increase over 2012.
  • Forty-five percent increased the time spent on discussing risks embedded in compensation plans.
  • Forty-six percent have interacted more frequently with members of management below the executive level, a 15% increase from last year.

Directors will want to be sure to understand the basics of the related laws and their reach, as well as the scope of their responsibility and that of management. They will also want to understand their company's compliance and deterrence programs. In particular, the companies’ ongoing processes to monitor compliance with the laws are important.


PwC perspective

Don Keller “The prevention of bribery and corruption presents a huge challenge for companies and their boards in today's environment. The issue is exacerbated in several ways -- materiality doesn't apply, so a crime could involve amounts that are immaterial to reported financial results. Gift-giving is also accepted as an inherent part of doing business in many local cultures. Another difficulty for companies is that they can be held responsible for the behavior of any third party they do business with, such as distributors, agents and resellers.”
— Don Keller, Partner, Center for Board Governance

Other key issues

Learn what PwC has to say about bribery and corruption:

Additional information about bribery and corruption:

1PwC’s 2013 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, Strategy and risk management (Additional measures to deter fraud).