Multi-National Business and Risk

Does a corporation overlook proper “due-diligence” when expanding their operations and, if so, how often might this occur?  I don’t mean the normal, everyday analysis, but a significant Risk Management concern; the legal framework one must consider when crossing borders!

European businesses have become very familiar with establishing new ties with various professional services when they open subsidiary operations in the northern part of North America, particularly in their understanding that Canada is completely different from Europe (and, again, different from the USA).  They locate legal, accounting, banking and insurance specialists who, many times, do not have direct ties with their European operations.  They realize that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) can benefit their Canadian subsidiaries in allowing an opening into the greater American marketplace, a major advantage to locating in Canada, and then look for the most suitable expertise to assist them.

Examples that I have seen include the contacts made through the various European-Canadian Chambers of Commerce with one lawyer (friend of mine) being especially adept at being able to obtain clientele in this manner.   There are numerous other examples but I will only provide one to whet the appetite for connecting with me.

Why do they like to enter America through Canada?  Many Europeans realize that Canada is significantly closer to our European “roots”, as opposed to our American “neighbours”, in areas like politics (should I term it “social democracy” and multi-party governing, as opposed to a true 2-party form?).  Maybe, for them, it is a gradual change from Europe to America.  And yes, many Europeans do love America.

Now what about American corporations; do they prepare themselves in the same manner?  Do they understand that Canada is not the 51st state?  Reality tells us that many American corporations do not fully comprehend that Canada has distinct laws, particularly in the areas of Health & Safety, Workers’ Compensation, Vacation/Paternal Benefits, Unionization, the “Duty to Accommodate” in areas of Disability and, surprisingly, “Francophone” issues, among many others.  They do, however, realize that we have a “Government Health Care” system in place, unlike their home country (and, yes, there can be major cost savings from that associated with employer provided “group medical insurance”).

Sure, Canadian media is driven by American news events (CBC often reports items faster than CNN, by internet) and Americans residing in Canada don’t recognize that they’re living in a foreign country because of so many similarities (we also watch the same television programs and movies) but there are, in fact, major differences!

What is the significance of some of these issues that can be so different?  An example mentioned to me, over a recent coffee meeting, gave rise to an item that was publicized significantly in Canada not too many years ago.  See the following for one example: http://www.ogilvyrenault.com/files/unionfreespeech01oct04.pdf

Knowing that some corporations do not see the “negative press” (“Reputation Risk”) as something to be of concern may be one issue to debate at another time but as a “new employer” in a different country it should give rise to discussions in the Board room, should it not?

Or, what about language issues or a “Napoleonic Code” legal system which should also be Risk Management concerns?  You may ask what the Napoleonic Code is but it heralds back to the times of Emperor Napoleon and still is the legal system in use, today, in the Province of Quebec, a part of Canada that is also the reason that we are a legally “bi-lingual” country.

There are a large number of differences between Canada and the USA that cannot (or should not) be overlooked by an American subsidiary operating in Canada.  Anyone who recommends that their subsidiary operate as a “branch” of the parent will be confronting many major issues never contemplated at home.  Quite possibly now, a majority of American firms operating here, treat their operations in this manner without fully realizing the many Risk Management issues they face.

The most significant, in my mind, was Bill C-45 and the debate it caused in 2003, when Directors, Officers and Management could be fined and imprisoned for the most serious of health and safety violations!  I had clients who wanted to buy insurance protection which was not available because these are considered “uninsurable” (criminal) events.  What could they do?  We provided training and consulting from a Risk Management capacity which lessened their concerns.  This needs to be an ongoing function.

To conclude, it may be better to obtain the expertise of local consultants when expanding multi-nationally.  Good Risk Management practices would indicate that, instead of assuming that everything is the same as to what one has become accustomed, businesses should take a few moments to contact us.

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3 Responses to “Multi-National Business and Risk”

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