Tag: Compliance & ethics


Human Rights Through A Corporate Governance Lens

George Dallas is Policy Director at International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN). The following post is based on an ICGN publication by Mr. Dallas and Lauren Compere, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management; the complete publication, including annexes, is available here.

Human rights [1] are attracting increasing attention from a corporate governance perspective as a dimension of both business ethics and enterprise risk management for companies. Indeed, the ethical and risk dimensions are in many ways intertwined, insofar as ethical lapses or inattention to human rights practices by companies may not only breach the human rights of those affected by corporate behaviour, but may also have material commercial consequences for the company itself. In extreme cases human rights problems can pose a franchise risk to companies [2]; in lesser cases these can increase costs and damage valuable relationships with stakeholders.

In a broad governance context human rights cannot be simply framed as a reputational or “non-financial” risk; the consequences of poor human rights practices can materially impact a company’s stakeholder relations, financial performance and prospects for sustainable value creation. Accordingly, human rights is an issue warranting greater attention from long-term investors as a matter of investment analysis, valuation and engagement with companies.

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The SEC as the Whistleblower’s Advocate

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at the Ray Garrett, Jr. Corporate and Securities Law Institute–Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Illinois; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am very honored to address the Garrett Institute, one of the most important programs in the country for corporate and securities lawyers, and to be in David’s home territory of Northwestern Law School where he served as Dean before going on to serve as a very distinguished Chairman of the SEC in the late 1980s.

Although the Garrett Institute was established 35 years ago to honor former SEC Chairman Ray Garrett, Jr., I really first came to learn about him when I did a bit of research for a speech I gave in honor of former SEC Commissioner Al Sommer on the importance of the SEC as an independent agency. Mr. Sommer, himself a legendary Commissioner, was recommended by Chairman Garrett to succeed him as Chairman. Seemingly, that did not come to pass because Commissioner Sommer was a Democrat during a Republican administration. That, however, did not stop Chairman Garrett, a Republican, from recommending the person he thought would be the best for the job.

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Holding Corporate Officers and Directors Accountable for Failures of Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Greg M. Zipes, a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice. This post is based on his article Ties that Bind: Codes of Conduct that Require Automatic Reductions to the Pay of Directors, Officers, and Their Advisors for Failures of Corporate Governance that was recently published in the Journal of Business and Securities Law. All comments are in Mr. Zipes’ individual capacity and do not reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Executives and directors at large corporations rarely face personal liability for failures of oversight that lead to large penalties or losses to their companies. As outlined in my recent article, the American consumer can help provide a solution to this lack of accountability.

I propose that corporate executives and directors sign binding codes of conduct requiring them to uphold specific standards within their corporations. They would agree to specific, transparent reductions in compensation if they fail to live up to these standards. This proposal does not rely on the altruism of these corporate heads to sign. Rather, it assumes that those consumers, dismayed by corporate excesses, will direct at least a portion of their business towards those companies with executives who are willing to put their compensation on the line.

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Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior

The following post comes to us from Lee Biggerstaff of the Department of Finance at Miami University, David Cicero of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama, and Andy Puckett of the Department of Finance at the University of Tennessee.

Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.

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SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.

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Private Equity Fund Managers: Annual Compliance Reminders and New Developments

The following post comes to us from David J. Greene, partner focusing on investment fund formation, structuring, and related transactions at Latham & Watkins LLP, and is based on a Latham client alert by Mr. Greene, Amy Rigdon, Barton Clark, and Nabil Sabki.

US federal laws and regulations, as well as the rules of self-regulatory organizations, impose numerous yearly reporting and compliance obligations on private equity firms. While these obligations include many routine and ongoing obligations, new and emerging regulatory developments also impact private equity firms’ compliance operations. This post provides a round-up of certain annual or periodic investment advisory compliance-related requirements that apply to many private equity firms. In addition, this post highlights material regulatory developments in 2014 as well as a number of expectations regarding areas of regulatory focus for 2015.

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Keeping Pace with Digital Disruption in our Securities Marketplace

Kara M. Stein is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Stein’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference, available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Stein and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable and dedicated career of Harvey Goldschmid. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey visited me to discuss his perspectives on a number of timely securities law issues. His superb intellect was reinforced by his engaging personality and skill as a teacher.

Harvey’s intense passion for the securities laws and investor protection was an inspiration to many of us. In authoring a tribute to Harvey Goldschmid in 2006, SEC historian Joel Seligman labeled him one of the most influential Commissioners. [1] I couldn’t agree more.

This conference provides us with an opportunity to look backward and to look forward. As I look back over the SEC’s history, I am always impressed by the rate and degree of change.

Picture Wall Street 80 years ago—the street was filled with dozens of young men—“runners”—carrying paper back and forth between various brokers and dealers and banks and exchanges and companies that made up the securities markets. Runners were the backbone of the securities market, delivering paperwork and stock certificates at a rate of $8 per day. Maybe the telephone would ring (the desk telephone was launched in 1932) or a telegram would arrive. And investors, would look to the newspaper to decide what stocks to buy or sell.

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What’s New in 2015: Cybersecurity, Financial Reporting and Disclosure Challenges

The following publication comes to us from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and is based on a Weil alert; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As calendar-year reporting companies close the books on fiscal 2014, begin to tackle their annual reports on Form 10-K and think ahead to reporting for the first quarter of 2015, a number of issues warrant particularly close board and management attention. In highlighting these key issues, we include guidance gleaned from the late Fall 2014 programs during which members of the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators delivered important messages for companies and their outside auditors to consider. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions on “what to do now.”

While there are no major changes in the financial reporting and disclosure rules and standards applicable to the 2014 Form 10-K, companies can expect heightened scrutiny from regulators, and heightened professional skepticism from outside auditors, regarding compliance with existing rules and standards. Companies can also expect shareholders to have heightened expectations of transparency fostered by notable 2014 events such as major corporate cyber-attacks. Looking forward into 2015, companies will need to prepare for a number of significant changes, including a new auditing standard for related party transactions, a new revenue recognition standard and, for the many companies that have deferred its adoption, a new framework for evaluating internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). The role of the audit committee in helping the company meet these challenges is undiminished—and perhaps, in regulators’ eyes, more important than ever.

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2014 Year-End Review of BSA/AML and Sanctions Developments

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Elizabeth T. Davy, Jared M. Fishman, Eric J. Kadel Jr., and Jennifer L. Sutton; the complete publication is available here.

This post highlights what we believe to be the most significant developments during 2014 for financial institutions with respect to U.S. Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (“BSA/AML”) and U.S. sanctions programs, including sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and identifies significant trends. The overarching trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future is an intense focus on BSA/AML and sanctions compliance by multiple government agencies, combined with increasing regulatory expectations and significant enforcement actions and penalties.

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Addressing the Lack of Transparency in the Security-Based Swap Market

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [January 14, 2015], the Commission considers rules that are designed to address the lack of transparency in the security-based swaps (SBS) market that substantially contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. These rules are the result of the Congressional mandate in the Dodd-Frank Act, which directed the SEC and the CFTC to create a regulatory framework to oversee this market.

The global derivatives market is huge, at an amount estimated to exceed $692 trillion worldwide—and more than $14 trillion represents transactions in SBS regulated by the SEC. The continuing lack of transparency and meaningful pricing information in the SBS market puts many investors at distinct disadvantages in negotiating transactions and understanding their risk exposures. In addition, as trillions of dollars have continued to trade in the OTC market, there is still no mandatory mechanism for regulators to obtain complete data about the potential exposure of individual financial institutions and the SBS market, in general.

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