Authored By: Michael Robinson
Add another voice to the growing chorus who are signaling the dawn of a new era in the fight against corruption. In just the last several months, Obama Administration officials, leading trade organizations, and high-profile NGOs have all articulated an intensified focus on corporate corruption issues. Now, credit rating agencies have jumped onto the bandwagon – and, in the process, they have provided companies with compelling reasons to demonstrate a commitment to honest and ethical business practices.
Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings, which saw three of the companies it rates (Avon Products, Hewlett-Packard, and BHP Britton) adversely affected by corruption allegations in April 2010 alone, announced that violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and other anti-bribery conventions could soon play a larger role in determining companies’ fiscal health. Citing ever-increasing fines, detailed reporting requirements, reputational risks, potential civil lawsuits, and other key distractions that management must face, Fitch made a strong case for downgrading companies who end up embroiled in corruption issues.
As a practical matter, this translates into a need for global businesses to develop and implement effective anti-corruption measures and aggressively communicate the full scope of these programs to internal and external audiences. Indeed, companies that opt not to make the fight against corruption a key element of their communications efforts may well end up costing themselves more (as the result of a lower rating) when they seek to raise the capital they need.
Through this initiative, Fitch had made it clear that they understand the anti-corruption sentiments articulated by global investors earlier this year, and the consequences of failing to meet those standards.