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Can Boards Help Fight “Compliance Fatigue” In Emerging Market Firms?

Posted on the 18 September 2014 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal

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In the first half of 2014, anti-corruption enforcement actions by the U.S. alone cost the business community more than $500 million. It would seem logical that as a result anti-corruption compliance would be at the forefront of every multinational corporation’s activities. But that’s not the case, at least as described in the 2014 Global Fraud Survey, perhaps one of the largest and most credible surveys on the topic, released by Ernst and Young (EY) earlier this summer.

The report indicates that businesses around the world are suffering from what EY has dubbed “compliance fatigue.” After surveying more than 2,700 business executives in 59 countries, EY discovered that “despite the aggressive enforcement environment…the percentage of companies that have anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policies has increased by only 1%.”

According to the survey, the reason for such stagnation rests with chief executives who are reluctant to participate in compliance training programs and take other necessary steps. EY does note that “the majority of businesses have put in place many of the building blocks of effective compliance programs.” However, “one-fifth of respondents say that either their business does not have an ABAC policy or that they do not know if there is a policy” representing a “persistent minority” of firms that have yet to adopt any measures to prevent bribery.  Within this minority, the report shows that executives are not only apathetic towards compliance, but “are willing to act unethically to win or retain business.”

Because executive officers face greater exposure to corruption risks, EY posits that the best course of action to alleviate this compliance fatigue is for boards of directors to maintain a high level of pressure on C-suite executives to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions. The survey authors state, “This level of scrutiny will drive a higher level of engagement among senior executives.” This solution, however, hinges on the idea that board members have sufficient knowledge and understanding to provide such oversight. Unfortunately, CIPE’s work in emerging markets around the world have shown that this is not always the case.

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