How Do I Get Into International Compliance? 


Early this month I received an email from a reader of my blog asking me how she should get into an international role in compliance.  It is relatively easy to move into international compliance where I live in London, but in places where business is more likely to be regional, how can you prepare yourself for an international role, or position yourself to begin working on the international parts of your business?  The most important thing you can do to prepare yourself is this:

Study the Laws that Affect International Compliance


Many practitioners become experts at the national laws affecting their business.  Whether these are simple zoning regulations or complex health care laws like HIPPA, compliance professionals frequently become well versed at discussing national law.  To work in international compliance, you must understand internationals law. Sound easy and obvious?  It is, but it takes work and focus in order to learn something that you can’t yet apply to your day job.  Where should you start?  I recommend the following:

            UK Bribery Act:  The UK Bribery Act is similar in some ways to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but there are many dissimilarities that make the Act more stringent.  For instance, facilitation payments are entirely banned under the UK Bribery Act.  It may surprise you to learn that the UK Bribery Act sometimes applies in countries other than England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  The broad reach of the UK Bribery Act means that many companies can be caught by it if they operate in parts of the Commonwealth or if they employ UK nationals.  Study up on the UK Bribery Act so you can articulate the requirements, but more importantly, begin to think about how your business should respond to the complexities of the Act.

            European Union Sanctions Laws:  The European Union imposes two different kinds of sanctioning instruments.  One is called a directive, which “directs” each country in the EU to take the principles of the law and put it into their national legislation.  The other is a regulation, which is immediately binding in its original form on all member states.  EU sanctions are complex.  Many include the names of individuals and entities with whom companies in the EU are not allowed to do business.  By studying the EU sanctions, you’ll be able to flag issues that will come up in your international business.

            Data Privacy Laws:  Perhaps the substantive area of law that most divides the U.S. from the EU (and increasingly Asia and South America) is the area of data privacy law.  Until practitioners work in international business, many are unaware of the stringent data protection legislation in other parts of the world.  Personal data protection is considered a human right in many places.  One of the best ways to prepare yourself for an international role is to get an understanding of the European framework for the protection of personal data.  Even better?  Read up on the new General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in 2018.  There is a coming shortage of data protection compliance specialists.  By learning now, you’ll prepare yourself for success later.

            Anti-Money Laundering Obligations:  The UK and EU have a wide range of laws and obligations relating to anti-money laundering.  There is frequently personal liability for individuals who know or should have known about money-laundering, and “know your customer” obligations are strict in many industries.  By learning about international anti-money laundering frameworks (especially if your business has a financial services element), you can kick-start your career in international compliance.

            The UK Modern Slavery Act:  Like the UK Bribery Act, the Modern Slavery Act extends to businesses that operate outside the UK if they do business within the UK and certain thresholds are met.  Prevention of human trafficking and modern slavery is critical for reputation protection – no company wants to be caught violating the rights of society’s most vulnerable people.  By reading up on your company’s obligations under the Modern Slavery Act, you can help your chances of becoming an international compliance professional.

            Conflict Minerals and Import/Export:  Depending on the remit of the compliance department, you may find yourself in charge of compliance with conflict mineral laws or import/export restrictions.  If you work in the extractive industries, defense or technology, these are especially important areas of law. 

One of the major challenges in building a career is that employers always seem to want someone to already have the experience before hiring them into the role.  The best way to create an opportunity for yourself before you’ve had the experience is to study up on the international laws affecting your industry before you’re in an interview for an international job.  By investing in your further education, you’ll be ready to jump in as soon as an international is available.  You’ll also be able to convincingly discuss the international laws affecting your business and have an opinion about how to address them when you’re being interviewed, and THAT can make all the difference.

Next week I’ll publish part II, which will describe five more specific ways to get into international compliance and ethics.

Kristy Grant-Hart the author of the book “How to be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.”  She is CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting and is an adjunct professor at Widener University, teaching Global Compliance and Ethics.  She can be found at, @KristyGrantHart and emailed at