Each year, the World Bank estimates $1 trillion is squandered on bribes to public officials to gain advantage in business transactions.
Australia is a signatory to the international anti-bribery convention but unlike the US and the UK it still allows so-called facilitation payments - money paid by companies here to secure contracts overseas.
Anti-corruption campaigners say that with so many firms working in Africa and China, it is time for a different approach.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is rallying its members to enforce an anti-bribery convention to stamp out the culture of corruption.
In a recent report, the OECD was scathing of Australia's record, pointing out that Australia "has only one case that has led to foreign bribery prosecutions, out of 28 foreign bribery referrals received by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) ... this is of serious concern".
Michael Ahrens from Transparency International Australia says the Government has never responded to the report.
"The Australian Government can't avoid a large measure of responsibility for this in terms of the integrity framework of government," he said.
By international standards, many, including Aaron Bertinetti from CGI Glass Lewis, consider Australia's attitude towards foreign bribery as ambivalent at best.
"Australia needs a far clearer and robust approach to legislation that looks at bribery and corruption and doesn't just lean on the Australian Federal Police," he said.
Mini Vanderpol, a partner at law firm Baker and McKenzie, agrees.
"You've got ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) saying, 'Look, we can only do what we can do' [and] you've got the AFP saying, 'We've limited resources'," she said.
"I'm not certain that that message is getting through. I think the message that seems to be getting through is, 'Don't get caught'."
BHP Billiton, Packer's Crown mentioned in OECD report
One of the 28 cases referred to the AFP related to two properties in Chinese Macau part owned by James Packer's company, Crown.
A former Macau official is currently serving a 289-year sentence for accepting bribes of up to $100 million, with various suspect projects named, including the casinos.
The OECD report notes Australian police did not launch a domestic investigation into any possibility of Crown's involvement.
Crown says none of its staff or officers was cited or indicted in the case.
The AFP will not discuss individual cases.
Another of the 28 cases referred to by the OECD relates to payments made by BHP Billiton in China.
The mining giant has acknowledged it may soon face US penalties over its sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics, where it donated metals for medals.
It also allegedly provided gifts and lavish hospitality to woo high-ranking Chinese dignitaries and steel industry executives.
Mr Bertinetti says, particularly in Asia, bribery and corruption is rampant.
"So the problem for Australian companies - particularly in the resources sector, because it's the way of doing business and here back in Australia those companies are trying to drive profits - there's a concern that perhaps the profits are coming before the best practice," he said.
The OECD notes the US has launched two investigations into BHP Billiton.
The only foreign bribery investigation that has resulted in prosecutions in Australia is the highly publicised case involving the Reserve Bank subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia.
Leighton Holdings' Middle East dealings under investigation
The OECD's lead examiners expressed concern that the "AFP may have closed foreign bribery cases before thoroughly investigating the allegations".
In another scandal, former Leighton Holdings construction boss Wal King has rejected suggestions he should step down from other directorships, denying all knowledge of a $42 million bribe Leighton is accused of having paid in Iraq.
He also denies he should have been aware of any such bribes.
Mr Bertinetti says Mr King is innocent until proven guilty but says "there's a bit of a smell that can attach to those countries".
"[The] best thing for a director to do in that situation is for that director to temporarily step aside from his role at that company until those allegations have been answered and cleared," he said.
In October, Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford also faced calls to stand down, following reports that when he was a director of Barclays Bank in Britain, Barclays allegedly paid secret fees of $500 million to a company associated with Qatar's royal family to secure emergency funding during the global financial crisis.
Mr Clifford denied knowledge of any secret payments.
Barclays claims any payments made were legitimate.
The matter is now under investigation by the UK's Serious Fraud Office, which has the sweeping powers that some say Australia needs if it is to get serious about fighting foreign bribery.
Facilitation payments questioned
Critics, including the Uniting Church's Mark Zimsak, the use of facilitation payments by Australian businesses is concerning.
"Under our Criminal Code, it is an offence to say that you have paid a small bribe to a government official in order to persuade them to do their job, provided that that bribe is a small payment and you've kept a record of it," Dr Zimsak said.
Ms Vanderpol says a facilitation payment is still a bribe.
"It just happens that it's still lawful in Australia," she said.
"They are not small amounts. Or they're being paid very regularly. Which of course can accumulate to being quite a large amount."
In 2011, the Federal Government proposed Australia join the UK and Canada in outlawing facilitation payments.
But the idea met with fierce resistance, particularly from 220 mid-sized Australian mining companies operating across Africa, led by Anvil Mining CEO Bill Turner.
His company famously provided the transport for government troops who massacred villagers in the Congo in 2004.
The Uniting Church is compiling a report on facilitation payments.
Dr Zimsak, the church's research director, wrote to Afro-Australian miners, requesting details of the payments they have made.
The queries have met with silence.
"An iron wall of secrecy exists around these payments," he said.
"We've written to governments in countries where Australian companies are operating, asking do any of these companies share information with them.
"We had no response from any of the governments."
Australia likes to claim it remains determined to stamp out foreign bribery but Ms Vanderpol says the record tells a very different story.
"The lack of enforcement that is being conducted here in Australia, I think, is raising questions as to don't Australian companies care? Does the Australian Government not think this is important?" she said.
"And those questions, I think, we don't really have very good answers."