Ethics and Integrity, Europe, Impact

International businesses, particularly those in the Western world, tend to have a preconceived idea that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region as a whole is highly corrupt. While this may have been the case in the past — and something that is openly acknowledged by many governments in the region — there is a lot of good work now being done by many countries to raise their standards to the levels of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and United Kingdom Bribery Act. In Georgia during 2005, for example, the government terminated and changed the entire traffic police force — approximately 30,000 police officers — in an attempt to drive out corruption.

That said, there are still countries where corruption is not being tackled from the top, which means it inevitably filters down through the food chain and infects society. Knowing which regimes to be particularly wary of and taking the necessary precautions in any dealings with them is, of course, imperative.

Recognizing cultural differences
Ethics and integrity are embedded in AECOM’s core values and must always be. At the same time, our regional gift policies take cultural differences into account. What might be wholly unacceptable in one country may be absolutely the norm in another, and we must take this into account within the confines of laws that apply to us. A timely example of this is International Women’s Day. If you were working with a government client in Russia on that day, it would be normal, if not expected, that you would buy flowers for any female client contacts — something that you may not do in London, for example.

Recognizing potential risks
As a regional leader, my job is to make sure that everyone in the CIS is able to recognize a potentially risky situation, knows how to respond or escalate it, and, most importantly, understands that it is okay to walk away from a business opportunity, however potentially lucrative it may be, if there is any suspicion of illegal or unethical practices.

During my 20-plus years working in the CIS region, I have only come across a handful of instances where ethical practice has been challenged or ignored in the interests of financial gain, none of which occurred at AECOM. But that does not mean that we can sit back on our laurels — particularly in a part of the world where historical perceptions, geographic spread and cultural differences can sometimes complicate matters.

Recognizing good practices
Making sure that the central and local leadership teams in the region are communicating a consistent message about ethical practices and expectations is one way we promote ethical behavior throughout the region. We also carry out consistent audits on project and country finances and use project reviews to help us keep on top of any potentially damaging situations that may arise. We also make sure we recognize and publicize good practices among our staff because, ultimately, it is the actions of our employees on a daily basis around the world that make AECOM one of the world’s most ethical companies year after year.

David-Whitehouse_89x100David Whitehouse (, chief executive, Continental Europe, developed his career with Turner Townsend, Hanscomb, Savant and now AECOM. He is a regular contributor to articles in the Industry, including Building Magazine, Construction Real Estate and The Moscow Times amongst others. He sits on the Europe Ethics & Compliance Committee and the Global Geo-Political Risk Committee in AECOM.
LinkedIn: David Whitehouse

Originally published Feb 9, 2015

Author: David Whitehouse