Scene I of "The Sentence," produced by Commonwealth Films Inc. of Boston, shows a product development manager scrubbing pots in a prison kitchen. A TV reporter asks for an interview. But first, the manager is strip-searched and escorted to a heavily guarded room. His crime: altering his company's food product by secretly approving and trying to cover up the use of cheaper, untested ingredients.
Could this happen? "It already has," says company president Web Lithgow, who based the film on a real case. "Jail terms and stiff fines mandated by tough new federal sentencing guidelines are being handed out every day."
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Act of 1991 says when an employee breaks the law, the employer can be liable for fines up to $290 million, says Jeffrey Kaplan, an attorney with Arkin, Schaffer, & Supino in New York. But penalties may be greatly reduced if a company has a strong compliance program. "It's a carrot-and-stick approach" that seems to be working, Mr. Kaplan says. At least 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a manager or division overseeing ethics and compliance, adds Edward Petry, an associate at the Center for Business Ethics, a policy research group in Waltham, Mass.
Films play an important role in the process, experts say. "A well-produced film triggers an emotional response when you are not expecting it," says Carole Basri, a compliance consultant with Deloitte & Touche in New York. Unlike a lecture by an attorney, a film presentation can stimulate questions that can be answered in a less threatening, more educational capacity, she says.
Ethics training films can be used to set standards when, because of mergers and rapid growth, people are genuinely confused, says Gary Edwards, president of the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), a Washington-based nonprofit educational corporation that offers 40 dramatized case studies in its "Ethics at Work" video series. "Our films show managers faced with tough decisions ... and not just the headline misconduct stuff that puts companies on the front page." Sometimes, Mr. Edwards adds, decent people do the wrong thing to meet the bottom line because they think it is expected.
But a video that carries a strong element of fear is a powerful tool to get workers' attention, says Joe Murphy, a senior attorney at Bell Atlantic Network Services Inc. …