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US, UK Fight Foreign Bribery But Most Nations Do Very Little

Harvey Myland moves a palette ready for export at the factory in London, Oct. 24, 2019.
Harvey Myland moves a palette ready for export at the factory in London, Oct. 24, 2019.

An anti-corruption watchdog on Tuesday ranked the United States and United Kingdom as the largest exporters most active at enforcing rules meant to prohibit companies from paying bribes in foreign markets, but said many others are doing next to nothing.

Berlin-based Transparency International said only four of 47 countries — the U.S., U.K., Switzerland and Israel, making up 16.5% of global exports — were actively enforcing legislation against foreign bribery in 2019.

That's down from seven countries, making up 27% of exports, that were conducting active enforcement in 2018.

"Our research shows that many countries are barely investigating foreign bribery," said Gillian Dell, the lead author of the Transparency report. "Unfortunately, it's all too common for businesses in wealthy countries to export corruption to poorer countries, undermining institutions and development."

The 1997 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development convention prohibits bribes to win contracts and licenses, or to dodge taxes and local laws.

China, the world's largest exporter and not a signatory to the convention, was found to conduct "little or no enforcement," in a category that also includes India, and convention members Japan and Korea.

Germany, the world's third-largest exporter and also signatory to the convention, only conducts "moderate enforcement," as do other major exporters like France, Italy and Spain.

Germany and Italy both pursued fewer cases in 2019 than in the previous year, while France and Spain improved their performance.

The Netherlands, Canada and Austria — all signatories to the convention — are the biggest exporters in the category of those showing only "limited enforcement."

"Too many governments choose to turn a blind eye when their companies use bribery to win business in foreign markets," Transparency International head Delia Ferreira Rubio said. "G-20 countries and other major economies have a responsibility to enforce the rules."

Transparency's recommendations include ending secrecy in ownership of companies, which makes investigating foreign bribery difficult, and exploring increased liability of parent companies for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries.