French legislation driving change in business ethics

Tough legislation introduced in France over the last two years has placed ethics and compliance issues at the forefront for French companies. Some, such as L’Oréal, are already leading the way in many areas, others are investing time and resources into strengthening and developing their ethics and compliance programmes.

GoodCorporation has worked with French organisations since its inception at the start of the millennium and can list some of the country’s leading companies among its clients, including Total, L’Oréal, Airbus, Orange and La Poste. We now have a French company based in Paris, managed by Chloé Blais.

We saw ethics and compliance teams in France facing three key challenges in 2018:

  • Implementing an effective anti-corruption compliance programme to comply with the requirements of Sapin II, including risk assessments, internal monitoring and establishing whisteblowing systems;
  • Implementing GDPR; and
  • Establishing, publishing and implementing a human rights vigilance plan

During 2018 GoodCorporation worked with companies operating in France in all three areas, although the focus has been on anti-corruption compliance. We have worked with businesses across a variety of sectors to design and build compliance programmes from scratch, using our expertise with UK Bribery Act and FCPA anti-corruption programmes to help build systems that conform to international best practice.

The requirement for French companies to implement an anti-corruption compliance programme distinguishes French law from its Anglo-American counterparts, but in our view, has helped French companies close the gap with its American and British rivals quite quickly.

This has not been without its difficulties. While devising and implementing appropriate codes of conduct and whistleblowing systems has proved relatively straight forward, anti-corruption risk mapping, due diligence implementation and effective training have proved more burdensome, particularly where a step-change in culture has proved necessary.

Many larger organisations have the resources to meet the demands of this new legislation, but for smaller companies putting really effective programmes in place can be costly and time consuming, possibly detracting from their other core business efforts. To help, GoodCorporation has developed a compliance toolkit with all the resources needed to build an effective programme.

The agence française anticorruption (AFA) is due to publish its annual report in May 2019. This will make interesting reading for businesses looking to assess the extent of enforcement now that the agency is fully staffed and up and running.

The ethics challenges of 2018 will continue in the coming year as will our business ethics debates in Paris that enable companies to share their experiences and challenges. As programmes become successfully embedded focus will shift to the effective monitoring of their adequacy, potentially using benchmarks to review progress against industry standards and peers.