The pros and (substantial) cons of an ISO anti-bribery standard

ALEXANDRA WRAGE | 28 MARCH 2016

The international business community wins when companies across supply and marketing chains work to the same high standards. There is less risk and more predictability, which promotes confidence among business partners. Benchmarking among peers and establishing and sharing model language and best practices all help to ensure that companies set their sights on a reasonable common denominator for compliance. 

But standardization can only go so far. 

Anyone who doubts this need only review the language of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the DOJ/SEC Resource Guide to the FCPA. or the Guidance to the UK Bribery Act each of which resorts, of necessity, to references to programs that are "reasonable", "appropriate" and "proportionate."

Anti-bribery compliance isn't like a fire code or a health standard. There is an objectively established ideal number of fire extinguishers per square foot of office space. There is scientific data supporting the optimal shelf life for food products. Anti-bribery compliance is both simpler (don't provide something you shouldn't in exchange for something you're not entitled to) and more complicated (risks faced by companies of different sizes, in different industries and operating in different countries differ dramatically). There is no fire extinguisher standard for anti-bribery compliance, so the compliance community struggles with what's reasonable and appropriate.

The new anti-bribery standard proposed by the International Standards Organization (ISO 37001) reflects this same “reasonable and appropriate” language. Compliance professionals working in jurisdictions with a credible threat of anti-bribery enforcement -- the U.S., UK, Canada, Germany -- will find nothing new in this standard. 

So where does it add value?  

Read the about the answer at the FCPA Blog by clicking here. 


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Alexandra Wrage (pictured) is president and founder of TRACE. She is the author of Bribery and Extortion: Undermining Business, Governments and Security, co-editor of How to Pay a Bribe: Thinking Like a Criminal to Thwart Bribery Schemes, and the host of the training DVD Toxic Transactions: Bribery, Extortion and the High Price of Bad Business, produced by NBC. She's a former member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee and served on the 2015 B20 Taskforce on Anti-Corruption, which drafted recommendations to G20 leaders for consideration in their global economic policies. Prior to founding TRACE, she was international counsel at Northrop Grumman. She can be contacted here.