After the United Nations Convention against Corruption went into effect in 2005, pressure grew on private firms as well as governments to prevent their agents and employees—high officials as well as the rank and file—from offering or receiving money or other gifts as illicit inducements in the conduct of business. But in the years that followed, it became apparent that leaders were hard-pressed to identify and establish ways to address those problems. Drawing on his experience in the international construction sector, British lawyer Neill Stansbury recognized the need for operational standards that would enable organizations of all types to reduce or eliminate the structures and behaviors that contributed to bribery risk. In 2013, Stansbury and experts representing 37 countries and eight international organizations came together under the umbrella of the International Organization for Standardization to craft ISO 37001—the first international antibribery management system standard, which laid out specific policies and procedures firms and governments could use to identify and address vulnerabilities before problems occurred. Initially, adoption was slow for three main reasons: companies were focusing their attention on compliance with applicable national laws; introduction of the new standard would demand significant amounts of management time; and final certification would require costly review by an independent third party. A high-profile bribery scandal at one of the first certified companies also raised credibility concerns. As efforts to implement ISO 37001 continued, experience revealed both the advantages and the limitations of adhering to an international management standard to change inappropriate behaviors and create a level playing field in global commerce.
Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in April and May 2020. Case published July 2020.