Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
Enacted in 1977, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) makes it illegal for U.S. citizens, U.S. companies and certain foreign companies to bribe a foreign government official in order to obtain or retain business. However, despite the law’s good intentions, the government’s recent FCPA enforcement practices have created major uncertainty for American businesses and highlighted the need for reforms.
Since the FCPA was enacted, trade’s importance to the U.S. economy (as a percentage of GDP) has grown more than fifty percent, and exports of U.S. goods exceeded $2 trillion in 2012. At the same time, foreign governments have increasingly enmeshed themselves in private businesses. read more...
Unfortunately, the FCPA has not evolved to reflect these changes in the global economy – creating unprecedented uncertainty for American businesses selling goods and services overseas. They are now exposed to civil and criminal penalties for conduct that is, in many cases, beyond their control and knowledge.
For example, when an employee of an American company takes an employee of a company partially owned by the Chinese government to lunch or pays for his cab ride, does that constitute an FCPA violation? And what happens when a rogue employee knowingly violates a company’s internal FCPA compliance system? Should the company be held liable too?
To help address these and other questions, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission released unprecedented joint guidance on their enforcement of the FCPA in November 2012. While this guidance was an important first step towards providing businesses with much-needed clarity and certainty, more reforms are needed. These include ensuring that U.S. companies implementing robust anti-bribery programs are not punished for the actions of rogue employees. The government should also provide a clearer definition of who constitutes a “foreign official” under the statute. It is currently unclear when or whether a foreign government’s involvement in a business makes the company’s employees foreign officials.
More information about ILR’s proposals for FCPA reform can be found in its 2010 white paper Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.