Holier Than Thou?

Which of the following countries is perceived to condone bribe-paying by its companies doing business internationally: Sweden, Austria, the United States, or China?

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Which of the following countries is perceived to condone bribe-paying by its companies doing business internationally: Sweden, Austria, the United States, or China?

If you guessed China, you’re right. But if you think the United States is squeaky clean, guess again. In a recent poll of 770 executives in 14 emerging-market countries conducted for Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that monitors international corruption, the United States ranked 9th out of 19 countries whose companies are perceived to dole out bribes. The Bribe Payers Index was done in conjunction with the Corruption Perceptions Index, which tracks countries whose officials take bribes.

The United States scored a 6.2 on the Bribe Payers Index, where a 10 indicates the lowest level of bribery. Corporations in Sweden scored the highest, at 8.3, and those in China were perceived to be the worst violators, at 3.1.

Among those who were surprised at the semi- clean score of the United States was Fritz Heimann, chairman of Transparency International USA, who cautions that the index is based on perception, not fact.

“Survey respondents in foreign countries could be suspicious of the U.S. because U.S. companies have done well winning orders in countries where bribery is customary,” he says.

Until last year, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development convention on fighting bribery was ratified, the United States was the only country with legislation prohibiting bribery of foreign officials. Since the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977, about 30 companies have been criminally prosecuted. In December, the Wakefield, Mass.-based environmental services firm Metcalf & Eddy Inc. was fined $450,000 in a civil case for violating the FCPA by giving kickbacks to Egyptian officials.

A BRIBE INDEX

10 indicates lowest bribe level:

(Chart omitted)

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