Governments worldwide are choosing to "turn a blind eye" to companies that pay foreign bribes to win business, an anti-corruption watchdog said on Tuesday.
Transparency International said in a report that "many countries are barely investigating" the issue.
"Money lost to foreign bribery wastes millions of dollars that could otherwise go to lifesaving services like health care," said its head Delia Ferreira Rubio. "Too many governments choose to turn a blind eye when their companies use bribery to win business in foreign markets."
The Berlin-based organization said only four of 47 countries are actively enforcing legislation against foreign bribery. The report said the US, the UK, Switzerland and Israel had led the way in tackling this form of corruption.
The four nations represent 16.5% of global exports.
A 1997 international agreement formally prohibits bribes to win contracts or dodge local taxes and laws. But it was struck under the auspices of the Paris-based OECD, which has no means of policing the accord or taking countries to task.
China, the world's largest exporter, never signed up to the OECD rules.
Transparency International said Beijing conducts "little or no enforcement."
Germany could do more
Its experts also found that Germany, the third biggest exporter worldwide, only carries out "moderate enforcement" of laws on foreign bribery.
More than 15 years ago, German engineering giant Siemens became embroiled in a global corruption scandal after it emerged executives had created a multi-million-euro slush fund to win contracts abroad.
Read more: Siemens Bribery Fines Top 1 Billion Euros
Transparency International says governments should move to end the secrecy surrounding the ownership of companies.
The report also suggests increasing the liability of parent companies for actions carried out by their foreign subsidiaries.
jf/aw (AP, Reuters)