Today is International Anti-Corruption Day and while the world has come a long way in the fight against corruption to date, it is clear that major challenges lay ahead. The World Bank estimates that $20 to $40 billion is lost to developing countries each year through corruption[i]. Corruption continues to weaken confidence in public institutions, damages the private investment climate, and divests needed funding available for investment in such poverty alleviation measures as public health, education, and infrastructure.

It is evident however, that lack of political will by governments to effectively investigate and prosecute the corrupt and of the lack of corporate will to conduct “clean business” for fear of leaving deals on the table for less scrupulous companies to pick up continues to plague the fight against corruption.

Looking back over 2011 however, there have been at least 3 important developments that I believe will over time contribute to a more level playing field for businesses and enable governments to foster a more welcoming environment for investment.

  • The coming into force of the Bribery Act 2010 of the UK on July 1st 2011 marks a sea-change in anti-bribery legislation in part because of its extraterritorial provisions that go even further than those of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. More specifically, however, the Act introduces an offence of “failure to prevent bribery”, the only defence to which is to demonstrate that a company had “adequate procedures” in place to prevent bribery and corruption. With effective enforcement, the Act could be a game-changer in the fight against private sector corruption.
  • Over the course of the year, the World Economic Forum and other stakeholders have been collecting and collating input from the global business community on how the Anti-Corruption Action Plan adopted by the G-20 group of countries in 2010 should be implemented. In particular, calling on governments worldwide to fully implement the provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption[ii], the only truly global and legally binding instrument in the fight against corruption; to voluntarily submit their implementation efforts to peer review and to put into effect all recommendations coming out of their peer reviews. Again, if this is done, it could dramatically reduce the opportunities for public sector graft
  • The increased awareness of the link between poverty and corruption as seen in Arab spring in the Middle East and citizen’s protests in India. Public pressure will continue play an increasingly important role in compelling governments and corporations alike to effectively tackle corruption.

Representing “the business voice against corruption”, the World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) ensures that companies committed to the fight against corruption are recognized for their engagement. Launched by CEOs at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2004 in Davos, the initiative was established to level the playing field among industry and help consolidate industry efforts on the issue. Today, over 160 signatories have already signed up to fight bribery and corruption, including industry leaders from multiple sectors and global locations.

I am confident that PACI is well positioned to facilitate an important contribution, especially from the private sector, by having more companies join the initiative and facilitate collaboration between the global anti-corruption initiatives working on both private and public sector corruption. Co-operation between business, government and civil society alike will be critical in 2012 and beyond in furthering the fight against corruption.

[i] World Bank Report, “Barriers to Asset Recovery”, June 21, 2011

[ii] The UN Convention Against Corruption commits its States Parties to implement a wide range of anti-corruption measures affecting their laws institutions and practices with the aim of establishing a global minimum legal standard against corruption.

*Arthur Wasunna is a Project Manager for the Partnership Against Corruption Initiative at the World Economic Forum