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Global enforcement outlook

What to expect from enforcement agencies in 2021

Welcome to this, our look at what we anticipate happening in global enforcement in the coming months.

With the pandemic dominating all aspects of society and business, some enforcers – whether by design or by circumstances – may have eased off in 2020 as they adapted to the wider difficulties faced by all organizations. But in 2021, companies can expect to face not only growing pressure to meet ethical and moral standards but also a renewed investigations and enforcement landscape, with prosecutors and regulators on the lookout for misconduct.

More enforcement tools and cooperation

Many jurisdictions have increased the legislative and investigative tools available to their enforcement agencies in recent years. 2021 should be no different, with the more laws and measures relating to criminal and regulatory enforcement on the horizon.

In the United States, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have focused increased attention on mitigating anti-bribery and corruption, anti-money-laundering, and sanctions and fraud risks in cross-border transactions.  This trend is likely to continue in the coming years, particularly if the new US presidential administration under President Joseph Biden pursues corporate fraud more aggressively than its predecessor.

As vaccine programs are rolled out and the focus shifts to the recovery, enforcement agencies are poised to reinvigorate the investigation of and enforcement against the full spectrum of corporate wrongdoing – ranging from traditional areas of focus, such as bribery, fraud, bid-rigging and tax evasion, to other kinds of corporate misconduct, like breaches of environmental rules, data misuse, and misconduct arising from the response to the global pandemic.

A more effective response

With corporate finances under pressure, compliance functions may find they have to do even more with less. Automation and novel ways of working might help. But focusing on risk assessments and nurturing a strong speak-up culture – matched with a willingness of leaders at all levels of the business to listen and, where warranted, act – remain vital, regardless of budgetary constraints.

Any business transacting on the global stage faces risks that are as interconnected as the markets they reach. The fact that those risks are also spread across jurisdictions only adds to the pressure to come up with an interconnected – and effective – response. We hope this report helps you meet the challenge.

If you wish to discuss any of the issues further, please get in touch with your usual Freshfields contact or the authors of the relevant articles.