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London: Pressure on employees to deliver on growth targets amid uncertain economic conditions can lead to fraudulent practices such as bribery and corruption, according to Ernst and Young’s 2013 Fraud Survey covering Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa.

Unethical conduct including fraud, bribery and corruption in response to such pressure is not just a hypothetical risk, according to the survey. One in five respondents experienced financial manipulation in their companies, according to the findings unveiled by the audit and consulting firm on Tuesday after having surveyed 3,000 directors, executives and managers in 36 countries.

“In this environment, some inevitably succumb to unethical behaviour," David Stulb, global leader of Ernst & Young’s fraud investigation and dispute services practice, said in a release. “Shareholders expect management to take responsibility for protecting the business by implementing anti-bribery and anti-fraud programmes at all levels of their organization. Boards must challenge management to ensure they are focused on high risk areas."

Such trends are apparent in rapidly growing markets where more than a quarter of the respondents witnessed manipulation such as overstated sales and understated costs that the management has been aware of, the report said.

Within the finance sector, about a quarter of respondents were aware of some type of irregular financial reporting in their companies. Across the survey, 42% of the board of directors and senior managers were aware of such incidents, it said. With regard to India, more than 33% of respondents felt that offering cash payments to win or retain business can be justified, while 54% believe financial reporting is often exaggerated.

“India has robust policies but the issue is compliance," said Arpinder Singh, India leader of Ernst & Young’s fraud investigation and dispute services practice. “In the current challenging market condition, the incentives for unethical conduct can be strong when personal remuneration is at stake and pressure to deliver growth is being felt directly."

Almost half the respondents in rapid-growth markets agree that companies in their countries often misrepresent financial performance, compared with 29% of those with headquarters in Western Europe.

Work pressure linked to performance is also leading to more cuts in remuneration in developing markets than in developed ones, respondents said. At least 43% of Indian respondents said that this was the case in their companies.

Although unjust practices are rampant in companies and a majority of respondents are aware that their company has an anti-bribery/anti-corruption policy, the survey showed that many organizations have a significant perception gap between senior management and employees when it comes to the relevance and effectiveness of this policy.

When it comes to whistleblowers, 60% of directors and senior managers believe that their companies would support people who reported cases of suspected fraud, bribery or corruption, whereas only 34% of other employees agree.

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