A new global standard: Is ISO 37001 Anti-Bribery Management System (ABMS) more than just a good international practice?


Anti-corruption and bribery have become a strategic agenda in the world for many countries and many organization systems are making efforts towards mitigation of bribery. But the question here is: How can this be ensured? The ABMS initiated by the ISO provides tough standardization, however, there are certain grey areas that still require being answered.  The first question is does it respond and align well with the laws and legislations of each respective countries where it can be introduced as a proof of evidence. Second, does the department of justice of each country correspond with this standard in the court of law?

Bribery is considered a serious business risk in many countries and sectors across the world. The incidents of bribery, fraud and corruption can have a serious detrimental effect on the repute, marketability and future existence of organizations. This effect is more pronounced when hefty legal fines and penalties are imposed under a law that eventually tarnishes the image of the organization, and, in certain cases, create a pronounced financial stress. The ISO 37001:2016 is a flexible tool for small, medium and large organizations aimed at curtailing such spread of bribery within the functionality of the organization by designing measures that can lead to early detection, appropriate response and prevention.

ABMS can be tailored according to the nature, needs and size of the organization. It aids compliance by introducing anti-bribery policies and procedures in line with international good practice and legal requirements according to the countries in which it operates. Bribery is declared a strict liability offence and/or illegal in most countries in the world.

The organization’s adoption of this certification specifies various anti-bribery policies and procedures, which an organization should implement as part of their internalized compliance procedure, in order to minimize their risk by preventing bribery and deal with an incidence of bribery at an early stage. These include, adopting an anti-bribery policy, appointing a person to oversee anti-bribery compliance, training, risk assessments and due diligence on projects and business associates, implementing financial and commercial controls, and introducing reporting and investigation procedures.

Some required measures might already exist within the organization and the adoption of the ISO 37001: 2016 will integrate enhanced measures in respect to anti-bribery for minimization of risk. This independent certification will work once the organization complies with all the policies and procedures for effectiveness.

Therefore, in adverse consequences when an organization is alleged of being engaged in bribery, the ABMS can be used as a defense in law to prove and evidence to the fact, that the organization takes all possible anti-bribery measures in terms of procedures and policies to prevent such crime. This may be the standard single best advantage.

Becoming compliant with ISO 37001 certification ensures corporate social responsibility

In today’s world for corporate boards, corruption can no more be addressed as a legalistic or compliance issue. It can also not be looked as an ethical issue. Therefore, the standard ensures uniformity in curbing bribery and corruption from within.  Adoption and compliance of the ISO 37001 certification will be far cheaper and less disruptive for an organization to implement controls to prevent bribery from occurring than to deal with the legal cases and heavy penalties in case bribery does surface.

 Corporate responsibility also sometimes known as corporate social responsibility is a key area of concern here. It is defined as the responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions on society and the environment above and beyond its legal obligations, through transparent and ethical behavior. In my view, the international coordination on anti-bribery is growing stronger due to the introduction of a new global standard in the shape of ISO 37001 ABMS which is being offered by third-party certifiers in growing numbers such as the Anti-Bribery and Anti-Corruption (ABAC®) Centre of Excellence. Overall this Standard acts as a benchmark to guide compliance officers as they work to determine when and how they deploy resources which will act a justification for leadership, regulators and stakeholders.

Naima Zohair

Corporate Compliance Counsel
Corporate Research and Investigations Ltd
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