President Jimmy Carter signed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) into law in 1977, following revelations that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had received testimony from more than 100 U.S. corporate executives that they were involved in bribery. The FCPA, which makes it unlawful for U.S. companies, individuals and third-party intermediaries to pay foreign officials to retain or obtain business, has three main components: bribery of foreign officials, books and records, and internal controls. The U.S. was the first country in the world to introduce such legislation. At the time, it caused an uproar among U.S. corporate executives, who claimed that by eliminating their ability to bribe officials in charge of purchasing decisions, the FCPA put corporate America at a competitive disadvantage and unable to successfully compete with its (primarily European) counterparts.
Although the FCPA has existed for 35 years, its effects have been most felt over the past five years, thanks to the Obama administration’s decision to make combatting corruption one of its priorities. A combination of increased regulatory oversight, new guidelines issued by the SEC and Department of Justice (DOJ) in November 2012, the promise of financial bounties for whistleblowers, advances in technology, outsourcing and increasingly global supply chains have conspired to make FCPA compliance a primary focus of C-suite legal and risk executives at many corporations.