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Global enforcement outlook

What to expect from the authorities 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 circumstance – may have eased off in 2020 as they adapted to the wider difficulties faced by all organisations. 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 co-operation

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

Despite Brexit complicating the UK agencies’ ability to co-operate with EU counterparts and the pandemic fuelling a drive towards protectionism in some quarters, the trend for greater cross-border co-operation across agencies is unlikely to be reversed. But the diverging approaches and procedural rules in different jurisdictions, the (at times) competing agendas across agencies (even those within the same jurisdiction), and the impact of geopolitical shifts all add layers of complexity for global companies.

As vaccine programmes are rolled out and the focus hopefully shifts to the recovery, enforcement agencies will likely 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 focussing 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.