Many times, companies are faced with competing legal requirements. Companies want to obey the law, as a rule. Sometimes, though, the choice isn’t as easy as obey versus violate. Sometimes, it’s violate US law or violate foreign law.
Let’s discuss two examples, neither with good solutions.
First, a US company with subsidiaries in Sweden operates an event-planning firm. A Cuban soccer team wants to hire the firm to put together an event for the team in Stockholm. Under US law, the US subsidiary cannot engage in transactions with Cuban nationals. Denial of the transaction based on national origin is a violation of Canadian law.
Second, a global publishing company with headquarters in New York is being investigated for possible insider trading sued in federal court. The US Attorney’s Office issues a Grand Jury subpoena for documents, including the names and addresses of all subscribers of the company’s magazines. Two magazines are published in the EU, one in the UK and one in France. If the French magazine delivers the names of its subscribers, the US company has just violated the French “blocking statute,” if it doesn’t, it is in criminal contempt, and could lose any cooperator status it has.
There is no good answer to these questions. In the first example, the Canadians are adamant about Cuba transactions; companies get into real trouble in Canada. But the US regulator, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), is just as inflexible. In the second example, no company wants to risk its cooperator status.
Sometimes, it’s not about doing the right thing, sometimes it’s about doing the least wrong thing.