France is looking to implement new changes to its current anti-bribery system, which has received widespread criticism over the years for its lax approach to clamping down on unethical behavior. Much of the enforcement has been left to American regulators who have found French companies wrapped up in FCPA violations resulting in hefty fines.
“With France’s increasing awareness and enforcement of their own anti-bribery laws, it allows citizens to see that this is something that is driven locally by their own country and not onerous rules imposed by the United States,” said Paris-based Nichole M. Pitts, Compliance and Ethics Officer, Louis Berger, International. “It also demonstrates that France is taking corruption seriously which will give companies determined to act ethically some leverage when implementing policies.”
The French Parliament is slated to enact the “Sapin II” bill in 2016, which will align the country with the highest international standards on transparency and help advance the fight against corruption. Under the new legislation a National Agency to Combat Corruption will be created and its main responsibility will include identifying and preventing corruption. More staff will be added to the ranks of this agency.
Next, large companies will be tasked with implementing a corruption prevention plan. “The National Agency will ensure that companies with a workforce of over 500 and whose annual turnover exceeds €100 million put in place procedures to guard against the risk of corruption, for example by training their employees,” according to a statement by the French government.
The agency will also have the authority to penalize companies that fail to comply with the new bill by imposing a fine of up to €1 million for organizations and €200,000 for individuals and make the proposed penalty public.
One of the items proposed in the bill is a ban on large gifts to government officials. “Companies will need to understand what is considered ‘large’ and ensure their gift-giving guidelines reflect this,” added Pitts. “We can also use this in training our French employees to sensitize them on the importance of building an ethical culture by referencing specific French legislation in addition to the FCPA and U.K. Bribery Act. If France tightens their laws and actually enforce them, this will allow compliance professionals to highlight the importance of working in an ethical manner.”
The bill will also offer greater protection for whistleblowers in the financial sector.
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