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ISO 37001 Anti-Corruption Certification: An Ethical Bubble in Corrupt Societies?

ISO 37001 Anti-Corruption Certification: An Ethical Bubble in Corrupt Societies?

  • Lucio Guente • EY Senior Manager • Forensics & Susana Lencastre • Partner | Forensic & Integrity Services

ISO 37001, published in 2016, is the first international standard issued by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) for anti-bribery management. The background and context go back to several significant developments, such as:

  • OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (1997): this international agreement was a major step towards global anti-bribery standards, focussing specifically on transnational bribery.
  • UK Bribery Act (2010) and US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (1977): pioneering laws establishing strict guidelines for companies in relation to the prevention of bribery and corruption.

ISO 37001 is therefore a standard that specifies requirements for the definition, implementation, maintenance, review and improvement of anti-bribery management systems, designed for all types of organisations, regardless of their size, nature, activity, sector of activity and covers the public, private and non-profit sectors.

  • Bribery by employees, commercial and business partners;

It addresses, among others:

  • Direct and indirect bribery (i.e. a bribe offered or accepted through or by a third party).

Ethics situation in Mozambique

Mozambique, like so many other countries, faces ethical challenges in different spheres of society, ranging from politics and governance to the economy and business. These challenges are cross-cutting and multiple, touching on aspects ranging from corruption and bribery, fraud and mismanagement of public resources (which affect their channelling to fundamental areas of the economy and society), situations of lack of transparency, the implementation of solid ethical standards in companies and businesses and, of course, social and economic inequality. These aspects end up greatly conditioning the country’s path to development.

As long as corruption prevails, there will be a tendency for anti-bribery certifications to increase

In addition, in the assessment carried out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and given the extent of the challenges still facing the country, Mozambique was placed on the grey list, which meant that corrective measures had to be taken. Finally, a reminder of the ranking in the recently published Corruption Perception Index by the NGO Transparency International, with 25 points out of a possible 100 points and in 145th place out of a total of 180 countries assessed. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which is a global measure of perceived corruption in the public sector of different countries, is published annually, ranking countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

What challenges can arise from implementing a standard like ISO 37001?

Implementing ISO 37001 can bring several challenges for organisations, some of which are:

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  • Leadership Awareness and Commitment: in order for ISO 37001 to be effective, it requires the commitment and support of the company’s top management, what is known in English as “Tone at the top”.
  • Implementation costs: implementation can be expensive in terms of time and financial resources, including the cost of training employees and hiring external consultants or auditors.
  • Cultural Change: implementing the anti-bribery management system may require a significant cultural change, especially in organisations where corruption may be seen as normal practice.
  • Third party management: managing the compliance of business partners, suppliers and other third parties can be a major challenge. The standard requires diligence in the management of third parties to ensure that they do not engage in bribery on behalf of the organisation.

But if we think of challenges, let’s also think of opportunities, namely:

  • Enhanced Reputation: implementing ISO can improve a company’s reputation by demonstrating its dedication to fighting corruption, bringing a competitive advantage and even opening up new business opportunities.
  • Protection against Bribery and Corruption: ISO 37001 helps companies establish systems to prevent, detect and respond to bribery.
  • Better Stakeholder Relations: by demonstrating a commitment to ethics and integrity, the company can establish stronger and more reliable relationships with stakeholders, including customers, business partners and regulatory authorities.
  • Long-term sustainability: refraining from corrupt practices and operating in an ethical and transparent manner contributes to the long-term sustainability of the business.

What future for anti-bribery and related certifications?

As corruption continues to be a problem, there is a clear trend towards increasing anti-bribery certifications such as ISO 37001, with:

  • Wider adoption: regulators, governments and the public are increasingly demanding transparency and integrity from corporations. Given the increase in awareness and understanding of the impact of bribery and corruption.
  • Prerequisite for Business: in some sectors or regions, ISO 37001 certification may become a prerequisite for doing business.
  • New Technologies: certification can evolve to incorporate new technologies and methodologies. For example, AI, machine learning and blockchain have the potential to improve bribery detection and prevention.
  • Stricter laws: as more countries adopt stricter anti-corruption laws, having an anti-bribery certification could become even more valuable for organisations, both to demonstrate compliance and to protect themselves against possible legal action.

In short, there is a promising future for anti-bribery certifications given their role as a tool in the fight against corruption. Nevertheless, they should be used as part of a comprehensive and ongoing ethics and compliance programme.

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