Press release 13th Oct 2020

World’s largest exporters fail to punish bribery in foreign markets

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Related Publication

UK retains place amongst top enforcers – but comes very close to being downgraded


October 13, 2020 - Fewer of the world’s biggest exporters are actively investigating and punishing companies paying bribes abroad, according to a new report released today by Transparency International.

Exporting Corruption 2020: Assessing Enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention finds that active enforcement against foreign bribery significantly decreased since 2018.

The assessment shows that the UK, alongside the United States, Switzerland and Israel are the only remaining active enforcers of anti-bribery laws.

But a lack of major bribery cases coming to court meant that the UK came very close to joining Italy, France, Germany and others assessed to be only moderate enforcers.


Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, said:

“It is disappointing that so few major exporting countries are actively enforcing laws against foreign bribery, and that this is on the decline. Prosecuting corporate bribery cases is essential to securing a level playing field for law-abiding British businesses approaching new international markets.

“While it is positive to see the UK retain its position amongst the top enforcers of foreign bribery, this assessment reveals that it came within a whisker of being downgraded. Key to avoiding that slide will be ensuring the availability of funding for the Serious Fraud Office to independently pursue even the most contentious of cases.”



Worst offenders

According to the report, the biggest global exporters with the worst track records are China, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, India and Mexico.

Most countries assessed (34 out of 47), conducted practically no enforcement of their foreign bribery laws.

China, the world’s largest exporter, failed to open a single investigation into foreign bribery between 2016 and 2019, despite Chinese companies appearing in multiple scandals and investigations by other countries.


Improvers and decliners

Only four out of 47 countries, making up 16.5 per cent of all global exports, actively enforced against foreign bribery, compared to seven countries and 27 per cent of global exports in 2018. The UK, United States, Switzerland and Israel maintained their positions as active enforcers.

Germany, which is the third-largest exporter (with 7.6 per cent of global exports) pursued fewer investigations and closed fewer cases against bribery overseas. Similarly, Italy, a top-10 exporter (2.6 per cent), also declined, as did Norway.

Conversely, France and Spain, which account for 3.5 per cent and two per cent of global exports respectively, improved their performance.



Transparency International calls on all countries that are signatories to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, as well as the other major global exporters to do more to enforce against foreign bribery, including:

  • End secrecy in ownership of companies which acts as a barrier to investigation of foreign bribery.
  • Make case outcomes public to show how international corruption is being handled.
  • Stop treating foreign bribery as a victimless crime and build in victims’ compensation into the enforcement process.
  • Strengthen laws and enforcement systems to handle complex international corruption cases.
  • Explore increased liability of parent companies for the actions of their subsidiaries to help prevent foreign bribery and related money laundering.

For a full list of recommendations, read the report.


Notes to editors:

  • Exporting Corruption only assesses a country’s record on the enforcement of its anti-bribery laws overseas. It does not take into account how a country may facilitate corruption elsewhere in the world through other means.
  • The report classifies countries into four enforcement categories: Active, Moderate, Limited and Little or no Enforcement.
  • Countries are scored based on enforcement performance at different stages, namely the number of investigations commenced, cases opened and cases concluded with sanctions over a four-year period (2016-2019). Different weights are assigned according to the stages of enforcement and the significance of case.
  • Country share of world exports is also factored in when determining a country’s score.



Harvey Gavin

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