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Photo Credit: International Organization of Standardization (via Veracity Asset Management Group)

Back in October, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) released the long awaited ISO 37001, a new international standard designed to help organizations prevent, detect and address bribery. As a potential game changer in international anti-bribery standards, the ISO 37001 can be used by any organization, large or small, public or private, to implement an anti-bribery management system designed to fight bribery and promote an ethical business culture. Unlike the previous ISO 19600, which was drafted as a set of guidelines that organizations should incorporate into their compliance programs, the ISO 37001 is drafted as a set of requirements that organizations must implement if they want to be certified.

The standard requires organizations to adopt an anti-bribery policy, select someone to oversee compliance with that policy, implement financial controls, and adopt reporting and investigation procedures. Since the ISO 37001 sets forth specific requirements for companies to meet, it is certifiable by third parties and companies that receive an ISO 37001 certification might potentially have an advantage against competitors that do not have the qualification. With the Standard now only a little over seven months into its existence, the ISO 37001 has a long way to go before it is universally recognized as an international best practice in compliance. However, early signs show that the Standard has the potential to be just that.

What makes the ISO 37001 unique is that it was developed by the business community rather than an enforcement agency. As a result, the language used in the Standard is part of the vocabulary of business people and in turn businesses will likely find much clearer operational guidance in the ISO 37001. This business-friendly model makes the ISO 37001 a highly attractive compliance tool for many companies and could be a major reason why the Standard may gain traction within the business community.

As an international standard, the ISO 37001 has the ability to change and shape for the better the international marketplace. Compliance with the ISO 37001 will require companies from all across the globe to adopt the same type of compliance protocols that are considered “best practices” for complying with international corruptions laws, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act. This universal Standard will allow for a level playing field as everyone will have the same marketable certification, which in turn will only further strengthen the global fight against bribery.

Only seven months since it was released, the ISO 37001 already has several top companies seeking certification. Recently, both Microsoft and Wal-Mart have announced that they will seek ISO 37001 certification. The adoption of this Standard by Wal-Mart and Microsoft signals that companies are beginning to recognize the value of having an internationally recognized standard across their organization capable of combatting all facets of bribery. As David Howard, Corporate Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Litigation, Competition Law and Compliance for Microsoft states, “a common and rigorous standard for anti-bribery will cut across countries, industries and all segments of the value chain.”

Governments have also begun to adopt the ISO 37001, as a national standard. On April 4, the Peruvian government issued a translation of the ISO 37001 as a voluntary (for now) preventive model for Peruvian companies. Singapore has adopted the Standard, as SPRING Singapore, an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry is working with Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to launch the Standard. SPRING Singapore and the Singapore Accreditation Council expect to have an accreditation mechanism ready for certification bodies by the end of the year. Both Peru and Singapore’s adoption of the ISO 37001 will lead the way forward for other countries to adopt the Standard.

In just a short time, the ISO 37001 seems to be gaining recognition as a viable mechanism in the fight against bribery. Both international organizations and governments are slowly adopting the Standard and at this rate many more look to follow suit. Eight months on, the ISO 37001 looks to be a Standard that can have a major impact in the global fight against bribery.

Amol is a Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE