“Not only must we punish corrupt companies but also encourage healthy businesses“. The statement released by Mr. Raffaele Cantone, Chairman of the Italian Anti Corruption Authority, summarizes the rationale underpinning the so called “legality rating”, i.e. a score that the Italian Antitrust Authority assigns to companies who apply for it. In fact, Law no. 62/2012, converting Law Decree no. 29/2012, requires the Italian Antitrust Authority to assign a score ranging from one to three “stars”, to any applying company who complies with a series of legal requirements (inter alia, the absence of criminal sanctions or preventive/precautionary measures against key personnel of the company, no judgments pursuant to Legislative Decree No. 231/2001, no breaches in the field of health and safety at work, and no definitive tax assessments against the company).
The instrument, available to entities generating a turnover in excess of Euro two million per year, is completely optional, but continues to be widely utilized. A statement of the Antitrust Authority shows in fact that, in January 2015, the Authority received respectively 14% more applications than in the previous month and the trend seems to continue.
So, companies line up as schoolboys in order to show that they are worth a certain number of “stars” in an effort to demonstrate the soundness of their compliance program: is it worth it? To respond, we have looked into the benefits of the legality rating to understand the actual relevance of a practice that is becoming widespread. Below is a summary of the alleged benefits.
- A new Regulation, developed by the Italian Antitrust Authority in collaboration with the National Anti Corruption Authority, entered into force on November 14, 2012, sets forth that companies benefitting from a legality rating are enrolled in a register of virtuous firms. Such registration is supposed tofacilitate relations with banks or the granting of public funding as well as the possibility to participate in public tenders.
- The first example of a public procurement process taking into account the legality rating refers to postal services. The procurement documentation (Decision of December 9, 2014, published in the Official Gazette no. 1 of the January 2, 2015) stated for the first time that “for the public procurement of large size, the contracting authorities can evaluate the opportunity to give an additional and proportionate score to companies that benefit from a legality rating issued by the Antitrust Authority pursuant to §. 5 ter of Law-Decree no. 1 of January 24, 2012, or that have equivalent certifications issued to foreign firms from other agencies or public authorities”. For the first time, legality rating actually mattered as it gave a chance to companies to score additional points in public tenders.Some have criticized the use of a legality rating in this context, given that section 83 of the Italian Public Procurement Code (Legislative Decree no. 163/2006) requires that contracting authorities assess bidding companies on the basis of objective requirements only. It has been in fact argued that making reference to a legality rating is too discretionary. However, the Antitrust Authority, in opinion no. 163/2013, seemingly admits the possibility of using discretionary requirements, such as “the curriculum of the company, possession of licenses or quality certifications, availability of business assets, the providing of services or similar work, and in general, skills and references” as “factors that can be weighedas criteria for admission to tenders”.
In conclusion, if public procurement tenders give some weight to the legality rating, then obtaining it may actually be a good idea.
The risk is, as with any type of certification, that it will become a merely formal requirement, which does not attest the actual compliance efforts or a corporation’s culture.