How to establish the reliability of International Background Check data


Today I’d like to share a recent discussion that has been taking place the last few weeks on our LinkedIn Forum, the International Background Screening Forum that I think our readers will find resourceful.

The discussion provides an interesting primer and an insight into the rather fragmented nature of the global background check market and the challenges faced by screening companies outside of their geographic location (country of domicile) that look to source U.S. or overseas based clients international background check research either through direct to source i.e. a government agency abroad or to third-parties whether they are global wholesale providers or even in-country providers.

In summary a rather thought provoking statement and question was made that not all countries are equal when it comes to the reliability and accuracy of records around the globe. It was also  expressed that clients (multinational employers) are paying a premium for international searches and that there is a growing concern from a US based background screening company’s point of view as to how one should go about evaluating the reliability and accuracy of such results on a country basis. From a practical point of view it is believed that there might be countries that may not be worth performing a records search because… “there are no records to search”, or “70% of the people in a country can pay officials to lose the record”, or “50% of the records become “nonexistent” for political or religious reasons,” etc.

These are all very valid questions, (1) what is the reliability / accuracy and (2) if based on available information, local records might not necessarily provide at least a certain level of accuracy should an organization even attempt such research? As a global advisory firm specializing in this area we receive these types of questions more often than you would think. We’ll discuss both of these points.

How to Establish Reliability / Accuracy in International Background Check results

In many respects even after 12 years of specializing in the global background check market many would agree that it is still very much considered “The Wild West” and at its emerging stage due to the fragmented nature of differing laws, availability and access to local records and data required to undertake a legitimate check, costs, and most importantly differing points of view on what is legally permissible versus folks that just want to turn a quick buck for less than ethical work product. In the end the latter has done more harm than good but it’s getting better through education and the effects of increased global trade (increased demand) but also increased enforcement action of those that flagrantly violate compliance and personal privacy.

Unfortunately there is no public available resource that details by country each of these aspects of background screening on a country basis, at least at this time. This type of information is generally closely held by companies that actually specialize in this area of the market and many may feel that it is considered part of the “secret sauce” that differentiates them from their competitors (particularly global specialists). Aletheia Consulting has in fact conducted such research on a number of geographies around the globe.

With that in mind we will discuss the guiding principles we apply when working with our CRA (background screening) clients no matter whether they may be a US based or overseas based provider (ie. a screening provider located in Bangladesh as an example) looking to expand their geographic footprint and design their international background check product portfolio.

We carefully examine each local data source (i.e. criminal records, credit, etc..) by country and by product type with the following 8 specific questions in mind:

  1. Existence of information in target country? (locate possible sources of the data)
  2. How is information maintained?
  3. Reliability and credibility of information? (whether held directly by gov agency but also how credible the third party that may be in conducting the search on the customers behalf)
  4. Legality of using consumer information for employment purposes? (can it even be used for employment purposes?, if so
  5. If based on answers related to No. 4 that it is legally permissible for employment – how can research be accomplished? Direct to source or through a third-party?)
  6. What is required in order to obtain the information?
  7. Timeliness of delivery?
  8. Affordable cost of information?

Questions 1-5 can then be applied to a Risk Matrix and conclusions drawn as to the quality and credibility.

This of course assumes one also factors in the cultural and environmental factors involving a country’s level of corruption (i.e. the practice of paying bribes in order to get out of being arrested or to pay off a claimant prior to court in order to avoid a trial which is actually a common practice in some countries).

A country’s level of corruption and actual fundamental issues around the quality of source data will always be potential factors in international background investigations that one should consider but should never be a deterrent or an excuse for not conducting an adequate level due diligence on a potential non-US or local employee, contractor, or trading partner. Remember many countries including the U.S. have enacted various anti-corruption/bribery and terrorism statutes (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) as well as various industry specific guidelines (US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations) such as within the financial services, IT, healthcare, and many other industries that require a reasonable/responsible level of due diligence be applied when making a business decision.

What to expect from your local or global background check provider

When working through a 3rd party (in-country partner or even one of the “wholesale international providers”) aside from the usual production guidance i.e. what they require from you to undertake the search and what to expect in return I recommend you require them to demonstrate a sufficient working knowledge of the geographies they claim to be able to support. This needs to be supported by their willingness to educate you and or provide sufficient guidance for you to be able to communicate the local cultural and legal provisions governing access and use of the data to your clients or even candidates. You should then have this information cross referenced and verified independent and directly with the source agency and the relevant privacy commission (if applicable).

In the end there must be transparency with your overseas background check providers. If not than you or your organization may be placed in a risky situation of possibly violating an applicant’s personal privacy rights or even worse an organization failing to be able to demonstrate that they applied the necessary level of due diligence in their background screening process.

I am not a firm believer in “blind faith” or “blind trust” as someone mentioned in the discussion about relying on their provider without verifying the facts.  This is an unwise practice and creates significant risk for you and your client. Our clients come to us for expert advice and if we don’t know the answer to their question than we should know how to derive the right (accurate/truthful) answer or tell them we simply don’t know.

Some folk’s spoke of records not being available in certain geographies and that is absolutely accurate. In fact one of my most famous recommendations to clients is that “any firm that purports to offer and deliver criminal records for employment purposes from every country on the planet, don’t walk away, run away!” This simply isn’t legally permissible in a multitude of countries and is an outright criminal offense. As a provider of international background screening services however it is our job to be able to speak to both the local environment as well as our experience to be able to offer best practice advice for our clients in order to address and in some cases offer next best available options to consider.

In conclusion, just because criminal records in a country may be paperwork intensive, expensive, take an extremely long time to accomplish, or worst case scenario not very accurate due to the reasons discussed today as long as the organization has applied that reasonable level of due diligence..meaning that if it is legally permitted and available for employment the organization should have the check done by a responsible provider. The question then may become what source and as long as you’ve applied the guidelines we discussed above during the sourcing and selection process you should be okay. If as a provider you don’t have the in-house expertise of the local geographies than we believe you have one of two options (1) spend the time to research the various geographies on your own (although it will be a very long, painful, and expensive process), or (2) hire or partner with local and or global subject matter expert that has already done the leg work and who is able and willing to be your subject matter specialist.

International Background Check Market Outlook

All and all the international background check market even with its rather interesting challenges continues to grow and further develop in leaps and bounds nearly by the month. I am a firm believer that through continued education of our buyers, providers, applying best practice concepts, and striving to do the right thing as a business owner and as an industry will many of these challenges have less of an impact on the emerging international background check market.

For more information about Aletheia Consulting Group’s advisory services in international background screening please feel free to visit our website or email us at Info@AletheiaConsultingGroup.co .

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