Recent decades have witnessed an increased attention to anti-bribery efforts. Although bribery might have once been dismissed as the cost of doing business, perspectives have shifted and the public no longer tolerates corporate corruption. Companies cannot afford to be caught in bribery scandals and with the power of social media, even the mere suggestion that a company used bribes to get ahead of competitors can lead to irreparable reputational damage.
As the UN Global Compact’s Tenth Principle states, “Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.” Recommendations from international organizations such as the OECD and Transparency International provided companies with voluntary guidelines for implementing anti-bribery management systems (ABMS), but there was no overarching benchmark for companies.
A Scalable, Universal Standard
To address this problem, ISO, an independent, non-governmental international organization, brought together global corruption experts and member countries and published ISO 37001: Anti-Bribery Management Systems in 2016. The working group built upon existing guidelines to create a universally recognized, scalable anti-bribery standard that could be used by organizations, large and small, wherever they are located.
What is particularly unique about ISO 37001 is its scalability and applicability to different contexts and locations. The working group responsible for the standard recognized that the risks and challenges organizations faced differed depending on their size and complexity as well as the country and industry in which they operated. Chair of the ISO committee, Neil Stansbury, says that, “… ISO 37001 specifies the implementation by the organization of reasonable and proportionate policies, procedures and controls.”
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of the standard is the reassurance it provides companies when selecting business partners across the globe. ISO uses a common language and structure and certification is only awarded after a company’s processes have passed a strict audit performed by a certified, independent auditor. When opting for an organization that has received ISO 37001 certification, companies know they can trust their new partners and that third parties in their value chain have implemented effective, globally recognized anti-bribery measures.
While the list of companies that have benefited from ISO 37001 certification is long, here is just a small sample of the diverse organizations from different regions of the world that have demonstrated their dedication to anti-bribery efforts and to proving they are trusted partners.
Companies across Asia have pursued certification while countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have adopted the standard at the national level in an effort to curtail bribery within their countries. By doing so, governments hope to increase the competitiveness and attractiveness of their country’s companies.
On April 12th, 2017, Singapore announced the launch of the Singapore Standard (SS) ISO 37001. One goal was to build trust in Singapore companies and to prove their reliability as business partners. Surbana Jurong, the first large corporation in Singapore to obtain certification, wanted to reassure global partners of their high standard of corporate ethics. The company provides consultancy services on infrastructure, architecture and urban development for projects worldwide. For Liew Mun Leong, chairman of the group, one benefit of ISO certification is that, “It says ‘Don’t bribe me’ and provides our partners the added confidence when working with us. So, it is very important.”
Like their neighbors to the south, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) launched the Malaysian Standard MS ISO 37001:2016 in October 2017 to assist Malaysian companies with reducing the risk of bribery. On July 31st, 2020, the Prolintas Group, a company that builds highways in Malaysia, announced that eight companies within the group had been certified. As Dauk Mohammad Azlan Abdullah, the group’s CEO, declared “Having this certification also brings immense benefits and promotes confidence in stakeholders, shareholders and potential business partners.”
Similar to Singapore and Malaysia, the Peruvian government adopted ISO 37001 as a national standard known as NTP-ISO 37001. The government strongly encouraged companies to get certified if they hoped to do business with the public sector – Peru soon became one of the countries with the highest rate of certification. On February 20th, 2020, seven companies from the Enel Group in Peru became ISO 37001 certified. Subsidiaries of the group had already received certification in Argentina, Colombia and Chile, but this was the first time a company in Peru’s electricity sector was awarded this recognition. Regarding this accomplishment, José Manuel Revuelta, Country Manager of Enel Peru, said, “This certification allows us to strengthen the trust we have built with all our stakeholders and continue to contribute with transparency to the continuous improvement of the Peruvian electrical sector”.
While ISO 37001 has helped fill a void in countries lacking robust anti-bribery laws, certification is also pursued by companies in developed countries where governments are more likely to prosecute companies or individuals for foreign bribery. Certification shows a company’s desire to implement adequate procedures to prevent and identify bribery across its value chain.
In July 2018, French company Oberthur Fiduciaire became the first in the banknote industry to receive ISO 37001 certification. As a producer of banknote paper and other secure documents, the company operates in an industry where the risk of bribery and corruption is high as companies literally print cash for central banks. Thomas Savare, CEO of Oberthur Fiduciaire, recognizes the benefits of ISO 37001 for the banknote industry and for his company’s customers (mainly central banks). He says, “We also believe that our customers can use ISO37001 throughout their whole supply chain – not just their banknote printers, as they can mandate that all their suppliers, in whatever field, secure this accreditation.”
SICPA, a Swiss company in the banknote and secure documents industry, also chose to pursue ISO 37001 certification which they were awarded in February 2021. SICPA is the world’s leading manufacturer of inks and security solutions for banknotes and identification papers such as passports used across the globe. Further cementing the importance of ISO 37001 in this industry, Luminescence Sun Chemical Security (another manufacturer of ink for banknotes and security documents) announced on July 29th, 2019 that it had also obtained ISO certification. The company was pleased that an independent auditor scrutinized and confirmed the effectiveness of their anti-bribery processes and procedures. So much so, that Sales and Marketing Director Gerben van Wijk called on other companies in the security printing industry to pursue certification as well.
As a universally recognized standard, ISO 37001 certification reassures potential partners, both public and private, that a company is doing everything possible to prevent bribery and that they are ethical and responsible. Shruti Shah, CEO of the Coalition for Integrity, said that the standard’s third-party certification “could be especially attractive to companies that wanted to establish their status as good business partners.”
ISO 37001 gives companies, wherever they are located, the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to ethical practices and to being a trustworthy, reliable partner. Having a universal standard that uses a common language and criteria can also help multinationals and government procurement officials ensure a consistent application of anti-bribery standards with third-party partners all along their value chains. If more organizations required ISO 37001 certification as a prerequisite for doing business, companies could rest easier knowing they had chosen trustworthy partners and the standard could play an even larger role in reducing bribery and the negative impact it has on business and on society at large.