Star Trek and anti-corruption compliance programmes

Make a note in your diaries … 8 September is the 50th anniversary of the premier episode of the most iconic science fiction related television show during my lifetime – Star Trek. I am a self-confessed uber-trekkie and I can still remember watching the first episode, The Man Trap. So here’s to you … all the crew members of the Starship Enterprise, you have had a great run and I can only hope that the Enterprise keeps going on more five-year missions “Where no man has gone before”. Star Trek is still with us today, in all its various forms, formats and media because the stories resonated from the 23rd century back until the early 21st century. Today, I want to look at how Star Trek informs your best practice anti-bribery/anti-corruption compliance programme.

The original series, now termed Star Trek-the Original Series, largely worked because of the interplay of the show’s three main characters, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Doctor McCoy, as representations of the Greek terms ethos, pathos and logos. Captain Kirk was the stand-in for ethos, which is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader, the man of action. Mr Spock represented logos, which is viewed as reason. Finally, Doctor McCoy represented the emotional response of the heart with pathos. The three basic tenets of a best practice compliance programme are to prevent, detect and remedy. By claiming that employees who engage in bribery and corruption have ‘gone rogue’, companies are attempting to divest themselves of responsibility for actions from which they benefit. This is particularly the case if the bribery and corruption generated business sales and revenue. Yet the failure to prevent and detect can cause massive financial losses outside of penalties and fines.

The United States Justice Department, the United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office and other anti-corruption enforcement agencies make clear that a company should have all three prongs of a best practices compliance programme in place. The lack of or failure of any single prong can lead directly to a very large fine or penalty. Companies and compliance practitioners should be well-noted to recall the original Star Trek when designing or implementing a compliance programme.

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