Overseas bribery by companies from the world's export giants is undermining the economic potential of the developing world. That is one of the conclusions of Transparency International's recently published Bribe Payers Index for 2006. Transparency International is a civil society group that monitors corruption and publishes reports that name and shame countries, which acquiesce to dirty business practices.
Corrupt companies from the world's leading exporters routinely pay bribes, especially in the developing world. That's the message from NGO [non-governmental organization] Transparency International, which analyzed data from a survey of business executives in 125 countries.
The worst offenders were companies from India, China and Russia.
African respondents, though, named French and Italian companies as being among the most corrupt.
Philippe Montigny, of Transparency International France, says French companies are trying to shake off a tarnished- but outdated- image. " French companies are now reorganizing their management and way of doing business to make sure no bribe is paid for a foreign contract."
Corruption is a hot topic just now.
The bribe payers index coincides with World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz' controversial anti-corruption campaign which has led to the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and loans to poor countries.
Philippe Montigny believes African corruption is the real problem, saying French companies increasingly prefer to operate in China. "The African market is usually quite small, but the risk of corruption is very high. It's also high in China, but in China, companies will invest a lot in preventing corruption. And as the market is big, the return on that investment will be much higher than in Africa. So that's the reason why many French companies are withdrawing from the African continent."
Mexican anti-corruption advocate Eduardo Bohorquez wonders how developing countries can ever tackle corruption when powerful foreign companies are paying bribes. "This double standard makes it very difficult for us to say to our governments, you know, be honest, bring integrity, while you're having all this extra pressure from international trade and international companies."
Hugette Labelle, chairwoman of Transparency International, is calling on developing countries to prosecute foreign companies for paying bribes on their soil. "Please make sure that you are very alert to what is happening in your country, and if you find that there's potential corruption, that you investigate, and if it proves to be true, that you prosecute, because if you don't you are just turning your head and letting it happen, and in a way you become complicit."
Although the report's focus is not the naming and shaming of corrupt companies, it is at least clear that firms from China, India and Russia have the worst reputation.