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China slammed as EM firms accused of ‘pathetic’ transparency levels

A majority of emerging market-based companies are helping corruption thrive, with the private sector exhibiting "pathetic" levels of transparency, and Chinese companies scoring worst overall, a new survey by Transparency International shows.

The report released Monday measured 100 companies based in 15 emerging market countries on their anti-corruption programs, organizational transparency and country-by-country reporting practices. Companies were then given a score on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 was the most transparent.

The average score fell by 0.2 percent to 3.4 percent compared to the last 2013 survey, with EM firms showing a modest decline in anti-corruption reporting over time.

"Pathetic levels of transparency in big emerging market companies raises the question of just how much the private sector cares about stopping corruption, stopping poverty where they do business and reducing inequality," José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International, said in a press release.

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"Time and again we see huge corruption scandals involving multinationals, such as Odebrecht Group or China Communications Construction Company, doing immense damage to local economies. Through adequate transparency and anticorruption measures and will from the top this could have been prevented," Ugaz stressed.

Construction company Odebrecht Group recently saw its CEO accused of bribing officials at Brazil's own scandal-riddled energy giant Petrobras, while a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was last year accused of offering a bribe to former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

CCCC's subsidiary China Harbour Engineering Company, denied the allegations as "baseless and false," according to Reuters.

Marcelo Odebrecht formally resigned as President and CEO of Odebrecht Group in December, though a subsequent press release said the company was confident that his "innocence will be officially recognized."

Odebrecht Group gained a score of 3.6, while China Communications Construction Company came out with a measure of 3.3.

The survey identified Chinese companies as some of the least transparent amongst EM firms, scoring an average measure of 1.6, with problems stemming from weak or non-existent anti-corruption policies, or failure to disclose them.

While Chinese companies accounted for a third of the companies surveyed, only one — telecommunications equipment firm ZTE — made it to the top 25 most transparent across emerging markets. Meanwhile, 9 of the 10 bottom ranking companies are Chinese, with three - including Wanxiang Group, Galanz Group and Chery Automobile — scoring 0.

The best performing companies, meanwhile, came from India, with telecommunications company Bharti Airtell the most transparent overall, earning a score of 7.3. Transparency International ranked the country's companies higher thanks in part to the Companies Act, which regulates private firms on matters including salary disclosure, auditing, and raising funds. The Act has been taken as evidence which shows "strong regulation can in fact foster greater transparency."

Unsurprisingly, across emerging markets, publicly-listed firms tend to be far more transparent than state-owned and privately held counterparts.

Transparency International has issued a series of recommendations to tackle corruption across EM firms.

Companies themselves need to start by adopting a zero-tolerance policy around bribes, applying anti-corruption policies to agents and intermediaries, publishing financial information for their country-by-country operations and exhaustive lists of their subsidiaries, affiliates, joint ventures and related entities.

Governments and regulators, meanwhile, should adopt rules that force companies to disclose anti-corruption measures and corporate structures, while investors should demand more open and comprehensive reporting from emerging market companies and use this to inform their investment decisions.

End users must also ramp up the pressure, Transparency International said.

"Customers should demand the companies they patronize live up to the highest anti-corruption standards or risk losing their business," Ugaz stressed.

The survey's data was collected between November and December 2015.