My thanks to Professor Andy Spalding and his students from the University of Richmond School of Law for undertaking the Rio 2016 project and executing it with dedication and enthusiasm. I hope it becomes a model for law students around the globe.
Imagine if law schools in every nation launched projects like it to track compliance by innovative fact checking and reporting in posts on social media like the FCPA Blog.
If the students identify corruption risks, or just ask hard questions, and if they publicize local corruption fighters doing their jobs with “the-whole-world-is-watching” encouragement, it’s a big win for compliance professionals everywhere.
Pillars of compliance are free speech and freedom of the press. Would we know anything about Walmart’s alleged practices in Mexico if not for a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the New York Times? Yet the Walmart investigation has already helped protect compliance officers everywhere from retaliation and career suicide for doing their jobs. And a transformed Walmart aspires today to be a compliance leader by exploring industry standards developed by experts from the SCCE and others.
I’ll say it again: Compliance isn’t just a program — it’s a system of checks and balances. Parts of the system are inside a company. But many are outside, including the judiciary, prosecutors, the press, and public opinion.
There’s not enough reporting about the risks from wrongdoing. Compliance officers know the risks. Their daily mission is to prevent corruption and thereby protect their companies, co-workers, and even their countries from great harm. But their work only makes the headlines when things go wrong. Until then the risks aren’t much reported or discussed. That’s changing.
The new whistleblower culture that’s spreading around the globe, combined with instant access to social media, are critical reasons for the fundamental cultural shift in attitudes toward corruption. Will these changes finally tip the scales in favor of compliance officers?
The FCPA Blog, founded eight years ago, and the newer online social media forums including web casts and bribe-reporting web sites, are creating real-time transparency. Impunity of bribe payers and kleptocrats is giving way to naming and shaming even if they escape prosecution. Already, related professions are changing. Recently a major Brazilian accounting firm took note of FCPA Blog posts about compliance officers and assigned a group of auditors to prepare for and take the SCCE exam for compliance certification.
Because Prof Spalding’s students are posting about their Rio 2016 project, other law schools might do the same. It’s a “virtuous cycle” model of transparency and inter-connectedness that generates innovation. Another example of this recently happened on the FCPA Blog. Posts about an undergraduate compliance boot camp and law school courses stimulated others to talk about their experiences. A chain reaction of innovations in compliance like the Rio 2016 project can disrupt corruption’s vicious cycle.
Students from the University of Richmond School of Law, under Prof Spalding’s supervision, are now part of the compliance system. And they’re showing how brave and caring law students and their professors around the world who oppose corruption can be part of the solution.
Michael Scher is a senior editor of the FCPA Blog. He has over three decades of experience as a senior compliance officer and attorney for international transactions. He can be contacted here.