Bribes, the use of chemicals or the abuse of workers. The responsibility for how a company’s local organisations manage the business always rests with the group management – as the effects ultimately affect not only the brand, but also the earnings. In a seminar series in 2013, Mannheimer Swartling emphasised the importance of lifting risk analysis and anti-corruption strategies to a strategic level – and not delegating responsibility.
Sustainability and the ability to manage a company’s impact on – and relation to – the community are not solely a matter of duty and responsibility. It is a matter of long-term survival in a world where no one lives or conducts business in isolation, but always through a variety of interactions with a number of different stakeholders.
In addition, the Swedish government encourages the business community to apply the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to support the UN Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.
Cheap labour versus reasonable salaries
But sustainability issues are not always that simple. For example, what happens when a company’s need for cheap labour conflicts with the workers’ needs for reasonable salaries? “That is when it becomes important that the group management assumes responsibility for the issue and considers the bigger picture, instead of delegating it to the local organisation, which may prioritise the budget,” says Thomas Lagerqvist, Senior Counsel at Mannheimer Swartling.
With more than 20 years of experience in China-related issues, Thomas Lagerqvist has extensive knowledge and practical experience of investments and business relations in China. His experiences and those of his colleagues formed the basis of a seminar series on anti-corruption held by the firm in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing in the spring of 2013.“These seminars confirmed something we already suspected: that even mature and large listed companies have a tendency to delegate responsibility for such issues to their local organisations,” Thomas Lagerqvist explains. “It is vital that Swedish companies build, develop and maintain systems to ensure that they prevent, detect and correct corruption – also in markets that are located far from the head office, such as in China, the former Soviet states and Africa. We therefore decided to continue this seminar series in Sweden, which we did in the autumn of 2013.”
Mannheimer Swartling was the first firm in Sweden to offer structured advice within regulatory compliance and internal investigations. The Corporate Compliance & Investigations team provides advice according to the principle “prevent-detect-correct”. Assignments often start with a risk analysis, followed by remedial programmes and follow-up. Matters dealt with include corruption, competition issues, insider trading, the environment, money laundering and taxation. “There are no shortcuts or standard solutions in these matters,” says Thomas Lagerqvist. “Each company must analyse its own role and its relationship to the world around it – which markets does it operate in, what type of business is it engaged in, and which risks does it face? This requires a deep and honest commitment towards ethical issues – from the board to the top management. A commitment that must be firmly established and spread among colleagues in order to establish a corporate culture where the company’s ethical policy is at the top of everyone’s mind.”
CSR training for board members
In 2013, StyrelseAkademien Stockholm and UpHigh launched Sweden’s first certifiable training course on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainable business practices for boards of directors. Mannheimer Swartling is a strategic partner in the collaboration and contributes with legal expertise and experiences in regulatory compliance and CSR.“We monitor and regularly advise on issues relating to sustainable business practices,” says Erica Wiking Häger, a partner at Mannheimer Swartling. “This is an area under constant development, and regulatory changes have direct impact on the everyday life of companies.”
The training was developed based on ongoing discussions centred around the Swedish Corporate Governance Code and norms for good board practices, as well as the Swedish government’s latest owner directives on sustainability.
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