An overview of corruption with important information on what U.S. companies should be aware of when selling overseas. Includes web resources and useful links for exporters.
Last Published: 3/6/2017
Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business.  Corruption has a corrosive impact on both market opportunities overseas for U.S. companies and the broader business climate.  It also deters international investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.

It is important for U.S. companies, irrespective of their size, to assess the business climate in the relevant market in which they will be operating or investing, and to have an effective compliance program or measures to prevent and detect corruption, including foreign bribery.  U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in foreign markets should take the time to become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both the foreign country and the United States in order to properly comply with them, and where appropriate, they should seek the advice of legal counsel.   
The U.S. Government seeks to level the global playing field for U.S. businesses by encouraging other countries to take steps to criminalize their own companies’ acts of corruption, including bribery of foreign public officials, by requiring them to uphold their obligations under relevant international conventions.  A U. S. firm that believes a competitor is seeking to use bribery of a foreign public official in international business, for example to secure a contract, should bring this to the attention of appropriate U.S. agencies, as noted below. 

U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: In 1977, the United States enacted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which generally makes it unlawful for U.S. persons and businesses (domestic concerns), and U.S. and foreign public companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States or which must file periodic reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (issuers), to offer, promise or make a corrupt payment or anything of value to foreign officials to obtain or retain business. The FCPA also applies to foreign firms and persons who take any act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment while in the United States.  In addition to the anti-bribery provisions, the FCPA contains accounting provisions applicable to public companies. The accounting provisions require issuers to make and keep accurate books and records and to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls. The accounting provisions also prohibit individuals and businesses from knowingly falsifying books or records or knowingly circumventing or failing to implement a system of internal controls. In order to provide more information and guidance on the statute, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission published A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, available in PDF at: 

For more detailed information on the FCPA generally, see the Department of Justice FCPA website at:

Other Instruments: It is U.S. Government policy to promote good governance, including host countries’ implementation and enforcement of anti-corruption laws and policies pursuant to their obligations under international agreements. Since enactment of the FCPA, the United States has been instrumental to the expansion of the international framework to fight corruption.  Several significant components of this framework are the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions negotiated under the auspices of the OECD (Anti-bribery Convention), the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UN Convention), the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (OAS Convention), the Council of Europe Criminal and Civil Law Conventions, and a growing list of U.S. free trade agreements. 

OECD Anti-bribery Convention: The Anti-bribery Convention entered into force in February 1999.  As of January 2016, there are 41 parties to the Convention, including the United States


Major exporters China and India are not parties, although the U.S. Government strongly endorses their eventual accession to the Antibribery Convention.  The Antibribery Convention obligates the Parties to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions, which the United States has done under U.S. FCPA. 

UN Convention: The UN Convention entered into force on December 14, 2005, and there are 181 parties to it as of December 2016


The UN Convention requires countries to establish criminal and other offences to cover a wide range of acts of corruption, from basic forms of corruption such as bribery and solicitation, embezzlement, and trading in influence to the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption.  The Convention contains transnational business bribery provisions that are functionally similar to those in the OECD Antibribery Convention and contains provisions on private sector auditing and books and records requirements.  Other provisions address matters such as prevention, international cooperation, and asset recovery.

OAS Convention: In 1996, the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the first international anticorruption legal instrument, the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (OAS Convention), which entered into force in March 1997.  The OAS Convention, among other things, establishes a set of preventive measures against corruption, provides for the criminalization of certain acts of corruption, including transnational bribery and illicit enrichment, and contains a series of provisions to strengthen the cooperation between its States Parties in areas such as mutual legal assistance and technical cooperation.  As of January 2017, the OAS Convention has 34 parties 


and the follow-up mechanism created in 2001 (MESICIC) has 31 members


Council of Europe Criminal Law and Civil Law Conventions on Corruption: Many European countries are parties to either the Council of Europe (CoE) Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the Civil Law Convention on Corruption, or both.  The Criminal Law Convention requires criminalization of a wide range of national and transnational conduct, including bribery, money-laundering, and accounting offenses.  It also incorporates provisions on liability of legal persons and witness protection.  The Civil Law Convention includes provisions on whistleblower protection, compensation for damage relating to corrupt acts, and nullification of a contract providing for or influenced by corruption, inter alia.  The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) was established in 1999 by the CoE to monitor compliance with these and related anti-corruption standards. Currently, GRECO comprises 49 member States (48 European countries and the United States).


As of January 2017, the Criminal Law Convention has 47 parties and the Civil Law Convention has 35


Free Trade Agreements: While it is U.S. Government policy to include anticorruption provisions in free trade agreements (FTAs) that it negotiates with its trading partners, the anticorruption provisions have evolved over time.  The most recent FTAs negotiated now require trading partners to criminalize “active bribery” of public officials (offering bribes to any public official must be made a criminal offense, both domestically and trans-nationally) as well as domestic “passive bribery” (solicitation of a bribe by a domestic official).  All U.S. FTAs may be found at the U.S. Trade Representative Website:

Local Laws: U.S. firms should familiarize themselves with local anticorruption laws, and, where appropriate, seek legal counsel. While the U.S. Department of Commerce cannot provide legal advice on local laws, the Department’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service can provide assistance with navigating the host country’s legal system and obtaining a list of local legal counsel.

Assistance for U.S. Businesses: The U.S. Department of Commerce offers several services to aid U.S. businesses seeking to address business-related corruption issues.  For example, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service can provide services that may assist U.S. companies in conducting their due diligence as part of the company’s overarching compliance program when choosing business partners or agents overseas.  The U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service can be reached directly through its offices in every major U.S. and foreign city, or through its website at  

The United States provides commercial advocacy on behalf of exporters of U.S. goods and services bidding on public sector contracts with foreign governments and government agencies.  An applicant for advocacy must complete a questionnaire concerning its background, the relevant contract, and the requested U.S. Government assistance.  The applicant must also certify that it is in compliance with applicable U.S. law, that it and its affiliates have not and will not engage in bribery of foreign public officials in connection with the foreign project, and that it and its affiliates maintain and enforce a policy that prohibits bribery of foreign public officials. Problems, including alleged corruption by foreign governments or competitors, encountered by U.S. companies in seeking such foreign business opportunities can be brought to the attention of appropriate U.S. government officials, including local embassy personnel, and reported through the Department of Commerce Trade Compliance Center “Report a Trade Barrier” Website at Potential violations of the FCPA can be reported to the Department of Justice via email to

Guidance on the U.S. FCPA: The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) FCPA Opinion Procedure enables U.S. firms and individuals and issuers to request a statement of the Justice Department’s present enforcement intentions under the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA regarding actual, prospective business conduct.  The details of the opinion procedure are available on DOJ’s Fraud Section Website at and general information is contained in Chapter 9 of the publication A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, at

See also DOJ’s Fraud Section’s 2017 guidance entitled Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Program, which provides some topics and sample questions that the DOJ Fraud Section has found relevant in evaluating a corporate compliance program:

Although the Department of Commerce has no enforcement role with respect to the FCPA, it supplies general information to U.S. exporters who have questions about the FCPA and about international developments concerning the FCPA. For further information, see the Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce, website, at 

More general information on the FCPA is available at the websites listed below.    

Exporters and investors should be aware that generally all countries prohibit the bribery of their public officials, and prohibit their officials from soliciting bribes under domestic laws.   Most countries are required to criminalize such bribery and other acts of corruption by virtue of being parties to various international conventions discussed above.

Anti-Corruption Resources
Some useful resources for individuals and companies regarding combating corruption in global markets include the following:
  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission FCPA Unit also maintains an FCPA website, at: The website, which is updated regularly, provides general information about the FCPA, links to all SEC enforcement actions involving the FCPA, and contains other useful information.  
  • The Trade Compliance Center hosts a website with anti-bribery resources, at  This website contains an online form through which U.S. companies can report allegations of foreign bribery by foreign competitors in international business transactions
There are many other publicly available anticorruption resources which may be useful, some of which are listed below without prejudice to other sources of information that have not been included. (The listing of resources below does not necessarily constitute U.S. Government endorsement of their findings.)
  • Transparency International (TI) publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).  The CPI measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in approximately 180 countries and territories around the world.  The CPI is available at:  TI also publishes an annual Global Corruption Report which provides a systematic evaluation of the state of corruption around the world.  It includes an in-depth analysis of a focal theme, a series of country reports that document major corruption related events and developments from all continents, and an overview of the latest research findings on anti-corruption diagnostics and tools.  See
  • The World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project reports aggregate and individual governance indicators for over 200 economies over the period 1996-2015, for six dimensions of governance (Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption). 
The World Bank Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Surveys may also be of interest and are available at: 

See also the World Bank Group Doing Business reports, a series of annual reports measuring regulations affecting business activity, available at: 
  • The World Economic Forum publishes every two years the Global Enabling Trade Report, which assesses the quality of institutions, policies and services facilitating the free flow of goods over borders and to their destinations.  At the core of the report, the Enabling Trade Index benchmarks the performance of 138 economies in four areas: market access; border administration; transport and communications infrastructure; and regulatory and business environment. See:

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Bribery