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ISO 37001:2016: How to make anti-bribery efforts more effective

ISO 37001

Finally fighting bribery is not anymore just matter of obligations and sanctions, but the very driver of a sound enterprise management system. The ISO approach to preventing and combatting corruptive behaviours sets a now hope out to finally pushing corruption and bribery out of the business arena

Over the last decade, ISO has appeared to be readdressing its standard production efforts from original, merely operational, management system (Quality, Environment Protection, Health and Safety, etc.) to ethics and sustainability oriented recommendations.

In our experience, it all seemed to start in 2010 when the ISO 26000:2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Guidance was issued. The same trend appeared to confirmed by the ISO 50001:2011 Energy Management Systems, in which topics as renewable sources, sustainability, environment protection seemed to be the main drivers of the entire rule.

Now the newborn ISO 37001:2016 addresses one of the heaviest, most unfair yet most widespread burdens any organisations are affected by all over the world: the corruption. Scandals and financial or environmental disasters, at the dawn of the new millennium, had been resulting in a widespread production of new laws and rules having their aggregating matrix in the enterprises criminal liability.

Likewise, widespread anti-bribery and anti-corruption regulatory legislation has been getting in place in many Countries; in some cases, it just addresses the public sector, often in conjunction with foreign trade or foreign relationships when it comes to dealing with public foreign officers. As an example, we can take a look at the US 1977 FCPA-Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the UK 2010 Bribery Act, the Italian Law 190 of 2012, among others.

In this new century, a trend has appeared to be rising more and more on the global stage: laws by themselves, yet strict and thoroughly applied in any kind of organisations, are not enough. They indeed often set forth obligations and prohibitions along with sanctions and fines for any related breaches; the best practice instead, which is imposing itself is to proactively act over the course of any operating processes, over the entire organisation to ensure that any individuals are part of a management system aimed at preventing corruptive behaviours.

Most of these recommendations somehow incentivize enterprises to develop new management models aimed at effectively preventing inappropriate behaviours. If integrated with wider scope management systems, such models can even waive prosecuting criminal liability as long as the company proves to have adopted and put into action that Model.

In my opinion, though, defining a model just with the perspective of preventing sanctions risks to slow down the company’s development, diverting managers from pursuing their profit and development objectives against an enduring and forced monitoring activity of the relevant rules and of the workforce behaviours. The solution we have been developing in our consulting model is to introduce a strong and widespread ethical consciousness at any levels of the organisation. And ISO, in its Introduction to the 37001:2016 standard, confirms the top priority to “leadership commitment to establishing a culture of integrity, transparency, openness and compliance” in the organisation; in other words ISO declares that the “nature of an organization's culture is critical to the success or failure of an anti-bribery management system”. So culture as shared consciousness! It is such shared consciousness about ethical values that, when it comes to correct behaviours, will likely and even naturally induce the respect for the applicable rules that are just the guideline to effectively pursue those values.

Another cue arising from the ISO document presenting the 37001:2016 standard which we found interesting as we referred it to our company’s business model is the integration of an anti-bribery management system into a more general, enterprise-wide compliance management system. We are definitely certain that it is the very key not to leave any compliance area unexplored and unassessed and not to incur the costs of diverse, more single-standard-specific interventions. Likewise, we are certain that integrating a compliance-oriented management system into a model aimed at increasing the overall corporate social responsibility attitude of a company is the best practice to make sure that any operating compliance-related objectives, though important, shall lie on an ethical consciousness spread all over the entire organisation. So it has been interesting and even rewarding to see how our firm ethical belief, as the basis on which to develop a compliance model, finds an eminent confirmation from ISO in the general setting out of this important new standard. 

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