Sustainability and compliance in Guatemala

By: Astrid Dominguez

The business world has given special preeminence to the responsibility of companies regarding the various economic, social, and environmental impacts they can generate in society, in relation to the development of their business activities. This is why the business sector has chosen to implement actions that tend to implement environmental measures that generate social value in the short and long term, contributing to the development of future generations. Therefore, a sustainable company is one that is aware of and implements concrete actions for the care of the environment, in addition to creating economic and social value with the actions it performs.   

Based on the above, sustainability identified these days as ESG or ASG (“Environmental, Social and Governance”), should not be an exception for the Compliance area, since those responsible for management must evaluate the impacts under the perspective of sustainability, having to update risk maps, review of policies and procedures to promote a culture of sustainability, since today, those companies that do not promote sustainability are seriously affected in the reputational aspect. 

Compliance Programs implement a system of internal control and surveillance that allows the company to avoid, as far as possible, that crimes occur within it, or in case of not being able to avoid them, to significantly reduce the risk of these acts, as well as to facilitate their rapid detection. Therefore, it should be noted that the soul of a Compliance Program is not manuals or protocols, nor internal policies, but rather, the commitment of the direct bodies with an ethical and firm culture without exceptions, where the authority is the first to set an example and establish control measures for itself, as well as for the rest of the employees.

Therefore, there is a close relationship between the Compliance area and sustainability, since the adoption of compliance programs should ensure respect for internal and external rules, ensuring prevention. Likewise, actions and obligations imposed on the organization within the framework of the sustainable development agenda must be adopted.

Administrative and criminal risks in environmental matters:

Sustainability and care for the environment, as a fundamental right, has moved its interest from the administrative to the criminal sphere, possibly because the administrative route did not achieve the desired results. Administrative proceedings continue, but significant fines rarely materialize. In this scenario, environmental non-compliance ceased to have a relatively medium impact, with repercussions of an administrative nature, and became a high impact risk, as criminal policy and reputational aspects are now focused on environmental protection.

By way of citing some risks of a criminal nature, the following can be mentioned as a common activity:

  1. a) The management of wastewater from an industry or business, which, if it comes to breach permissible regulatory parameters, generate pollution contingencies or Industrial pollution.
  2. b) The construction of real estate, earthmoving activities, industrial drilling, among others, generate contingencies of illegal exploitation of natural resources, change of land use, attack against the natural and cultural heritage of the nation, or even eventual encroachment in protected areas.
  1. c) Another type of contingency is related to the use and disposal of natural resources owned by the entity, which could also generate risks of committing crimes against forest resources, forest fires, logging or illegal trafficking of flora and fauna. This means that it is necessary to map the area of risk that would be assumed, to establish whether or not there is any possible criminal, or specifically administrative, contingency.

In any case, it is suggested to have a strict priority mapping of environmental issues, since, as mentioned, their protection and sanction within the criminal sphere has increased in recent times and will surely continue to increase as we realize that, as human beings, we need to deduce responsibilities to those who damage the possibility of enjoying a healthy environment.