Business Ethics & Compliance 3: FCPA, Ethics Training, Social Media

I’m just back from New York, where I attended the Conference Board’s Business Ethics and Compliance Conference, as a guest of the organizers.

This is the third of 3 blog entries about the event.

This morning I saw two presentations. The first was by Matthew Tanzer, VP and Chief Compliance Counsel at Tyco. Tanzer’s talk was nominally about “Communicating and Managing FCPA Risk.” (The FCPA, or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, is what makes it a crime under U.S. law for an American company to engage in bribery overseas, regardless of whether there are laws against bribery in the country in which the bribery takes place.) But more generally Tanzer’s talk was about the very sophisticated program Tyco has in place to train its roughly 110,000 employees on ethics & compliance. Tyco’s program includes a “Vital Values” newsletter, online training modules, and having 100% of its employes — many of them in far-flung branch offices in something like 60 countries — sign the company’s Code of Conduct every year. My initial critical thought about the latter: how much value is there in having people merely sign a Code of Conduct. Signing doesn’t reliably indicate understanding. But Tanzer’s justification was a good one: the ordeal involved in achieving a 100% signature rate signals commitment. In his words, “It says to employees that we’re serious about this.” Add to that the fact that something like 50,000 employees go through online training every year, and you start to see that Tyco does take this stuff seriously. (Oh, and on the topic of the relationship between ethics & legal compliance, Tanzer’s advice to the audience, most of whom have legal training: Not everyone in your organization is a lawyer, so don’t focus on law. Focus on ethics.)

The other presentation I saw this morning was by Douglas Smith, a lawyer with McGuireWoods LLP, on the impact of social networks and new communications technologies. Smith opened some eyes in the audience, I think, with regard to various ways in which employee use of social media can result in risks for their employers. But he also had words of caution for companies tempted to peek at employees’ (or prospective employees’) use of social media. Even when doing so doesn’t constitute actual invasion of privacy, it can, for example, result in employers seeing personal information that they are not legally allowed to use (under, e.g., Title 7 of the US Civil Rights Act).
(One point of criticism if Smith’s talk: given that it was a talk about new communications technologies at a conference on ethics & compliance, I would have liked to hear his thoughts on the positive ways in which companies are using blogs and Twitter to communicate with customers, critics, and other stakeholders.)

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p.s. here are direct links to my last 2 blog entries from the conference:
Business Ethics & Compliance and Business Ethics & Compliance 2.

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