The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson: the importance of getting ahead of potential complications and reacting effectively when they arise – especially when we have a chance to prevent them. In terms of corporate integrity, more and more companies have added compliance programs. This comes from increasing awareness of corruption and bad practices in the business world.
These programs prevent, detect, and react to the possibility of fraud or any misconduct occurring within a company. They require working together to ensure an ethical, exemplary environment.
The roadmap for Ferrovial’s Compliance and Risk Department has put the company at the next level. This involves adapting our prevention system, which is already on par with the Spanish judicial system, to what is expected of a global company.
The starting point: the Spanish model
In 2010, a major amendment was made to the Penal Code. This change turned the reality of companies in Spain upside down: for the first time, they could be held criminally responsible. Until then, only natural persons could legally be considered to have committed a crime. However, this reform meant that the courts could find a person, a company, or both guilty of a crime.
At the same time, the possibility of mitigating and even exempting companies with an effective compliance program from that criminal liability was introduced into the law of the land. If judges find that active work is being done to prevent and act on crimes, even if some of them are proven to have been committed in the course of their business, they will look for other responsible parties rather than penalizing the company.
In criminal proceedings, the consequences of not having any such crime prevention program often come in the form of economic sanctions. However, in the most serious cases, it may lead to the company’s disqualification or even its dissolution.
While companies’ criminal responsibility and compliance programs are recent legal concepts in Spain, they have a long history in other countries. The world’s top leader in this regard is the United States.
As early as 1977, the country passed a law banning corrupt foreign entities to end the practice of winning large international contracts through bribery. Since then, American companies have begun to create compliance programs based on the prior experiences of banks and financial institutions.
This has created a very different business culture from other countries. There are obvious differences between the US and Spain or other European countries. While it’s common to invite clients out to eat in Spain, this is unthinkable in the United States. Similarly, the level of tolerance for workplace harassment is much lower in the US.
It’s important for Ferrovial to adapt to the demands of the United States. First of all, this is because we have a lot of turnover there. Secondly is the pursuit of excellence. Imitating the best is the best way to prevent problems and improve in ethical terms. That’s why our Compliance and Risk Department is preparing to adopt a more international approach to work. For starters, it has had a Compliance Manager for North America since last summer.
How does a compliance program work?
Compliance departments have three main objectives: prevent, detect, and react to breaches of any rules governing the company. Prevention is the main priority, so most of the time is spent on this goal.
The first step in preventing risks is identifying and evaluating all possible problems that a company may face, from the most unlikely to those that occur most often. These vary depending on the activity. In the construction sector, it is important to pay special attention to risks like corruption.
Once this is done, the tools that will be used to mitigate the risks, should they occur, must be selected. These risk management measures must also be communicated effectively, both internally and externally.
The second main goal is to detect problems. To this end, it is important to have the participation of all actors involved. At Ferrovial, reporting any suspicions of criminal acts or acts contrary to our code of ethics is obligatory for our employees. We want to be aware of everything that might affect the company’s reputation.
The third and final major goal is to respond to problems. Disciplinary or corrective action, or both, is usually taken.
Ferrovial’s ethical channel
At Ferrovial, we recommend that those with concerns address those closest to them, such as their boss or a human resources manager. But we must not forget that speaking up in a work environment can sometimes be complicated. That is why it is legally required for companies to provide a channel for expressing those concerns either personally or anonymously.
In the last few weeks, we have launched a new ethical channel at Ferrovial. The goal is still the same: giving a voice to everyone involved in the company’s activities and promoting responsible behavior.
The new features include a tool that enables the traceability of all subjects that come to the Compliance Department’s attention. Another improvement is that the channel assigns a confidential code to each person who issues a complaint anonymously. This makes it possible to follow up on the complaint fully without compromising the whistleblower’s identity.
Integrity is everyone’s business. We must be confident that our teams will know how to solve problems ethically and professionally. That’s why we strive for most cases, such as those that arise from poor working relationships, to be managed locally.
However, for very serious topics, they are internally audited to be analyzed independently. This is how cases of fraud and corruption, those valued at over half a million euros, those involving the senior management, and those that may affect Ferrovial’s reputation or public value are handled.
The new ethical channel also makes it possible to track how each incident is being handled. The information is stored so that it can be made available to the authorities if required in the future.
We’re not only striving to make Ferrovial an exemplary company – one that prevents problems and can detect them when they arise – but also one that is willing to learn from any such issues. The ethical channel and all of the Compliance Department’s work are making it possible for us to show our efforts so that everything is handled properly. That way, we can show how Ferrovial’s values are present in our day-to-day life.