COMPANIES practising ethical business practices are more likely to attract and retain talent in the Asia-Pacific region, a survey by consulting firm EY has found.

Almost 80 per cent of respondents in the region, including Singapore, say they would be unwilling to work for companies involved in bribery and corruption.

Additionally, 67 per cent of respondents in the region - and 70 per cent in Singapore - see a strong reputation for ethical behaviour as a commercial advantage. The online survey was carried out in February in 14 Asia-Pacific economies. The findings were based on 1,508 interviews, 90 of them in Singapore.

Companies used to comply with the laws for the sake of their reputation and to prevent financial loss, but these days, they have to toe the line if they want to retain staff or recruit employees, EY said.

"This is something that has never appeared before. It is a wake-up call for executives and board members," said Mr Reuben Khoo, a partner and regional leader for fraud investigation and dispute services at EY.

More organisations established a code of conduct (up 23 percentage points); training increased (by 20 percentage points); there were more anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies (up 16 percentage points); and more whistle-blowing hotlines (up 2 percentage points).

Said Mr Chris Fordham, Asia-Pacific managing partner of EY Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services: "Only 5 per cent of (Asia-Pacific) respondents said it would make no difference to their willingness to work for an employer if it was found to have been involved in bribery and corruption."

The survey also pointed out risk stemming from third parties, such as joint-venture partners, distributors, agents and vendors, as their operations are beyond the control of companies.

"Companies entering into a business relationship with a third party should conduct as much due diligence as for an acquisition, and extend their ethical framework to monitoring third-party behaviour," said Mr Khoo.

He commended the ethical culture that the Government has inculcated. "In Singapore's environment where both the public and private sectors co-exist as part of an ecosystem, the Government's tone on zero tolerance and the emphasis on corporate ethical leadership have created a more robust (anti-corruption) culture."

However, he stressed the need for stronger enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with codes of conduct.

The poll also noted that 55 per cent of employees in the region believe their organisations are fully prepared to protect themselves against cyber threats. The level is 59 per cent in Singapore.

"Companies are no longer thinking, 'What if we get hit?' but rather 'What do we do when we get hit?'" said Mr Khoo.