Geo-Economics and Politics

The private sector is key to fighting corruption

Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum. Image: Ben Hider

Børge Brende
President, World Economic Forum
Katja Bechtel
Practice Lead, Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), World Economic Forum Geneva
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  • As the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and economic uncertainty, corruption needs to also be addressed.
  • From small and midsize enterprises to multinational corporations, and for countries around the world, everyone bears the burden of corruption.
  • Like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, corruption is a transnational and multisectoral problem that requires transnational and multisectoral solutions.

The ninth session of the Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) comes amid urgent global challenges. As the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and growing economic uncertainty, it is critical that we also address the issue of corruption – for corporate and political integrity and transparency are integral to realizing the equitable and sustainable future we are striving to reach.

Anti-corruption efforts are needed so that we can invest effectively in urgent priorities. The trillions of dollars governments and businesses are devoting to revitalizing our economies is at risk of being diluted if these funds become fertile ground for corruption and self-dealing. By some estimates, the annual cost of corruption is over $3.5 trillion – capital that could more than fund the $300 billion estimated cost of climate adaption in developing economies.

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How to address corruption

But knowing that we must address corruption is just one part of the story. The other is how we go about doing it. Here, the challenges we are confronting are instructive. Just as the pandemic and climate crisis each demand global collaboration, so too does the battle against corruption. The fact that 188 states are parties to the Convention against Corruption speaks to the recognition that a collective commitment is crucial to meeting our anti-corruption objectives.

Importantly, when we speak of collective action, it must also mean multilateral and multistakeholder in nature because no single country, company or industry can achieve its anti-corruption goals by itself. From small and midsize enterprises to multinational corporations, and for countries around the world, everyone bears the burden of corruption, even if it is not within their own boardrooms or borders. Every stakeholder, therefore, needs to be part of the solution.

Article 12 of the Convention against Corruption directly addresses the importance of engaging the private sector in the fight against corruption. The convention encourages state parties to partner with private entities and to help develop corporate anti-corruption safeguards, including conflict checks, disclosure obligations, and accounting and auditing standards.

Global efforts to fight corruption

The World Economic Forum – the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation – is spearheading innovative initiatives to bring together stakeholders from business, government and civil society to propel an anti-corruption agenda. Our Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) is comprised of 90 companies from across industries and serves as the principal CEO-led platform for battling global corruption.

This community not only creates a virtuous environment among itself, in which leaders reinforce anti-corruption commitments and actions, but it also sends a powerful market signal. Namely, the world’s leading companies have zero tolerance for corruption and are ready to work collectively across sectoral boundaries to curb it.

This past June, PACI launched a Unifying Framework for private sector intermediaries – known as “gatekeepers” – who are positioned to prevent or interrupt illicit financial flows. The framework, developed in partnership with the Forum’s Global Future Council on Transparency and Anti-Corruption, the UNOCD-World Bank StAR Initiative and leaders from the private sector, aims to unite a broad array of private sector professionals and serve as a mechanism for complementing, reinforcing, or enhancing existing regulatory measures.

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Regional efforts to fight corruption

Regional initiatives are similarly raising anti-corruption standards within the private sector. The Pearl Initiative, for instance, convenes public and private sector leaders to promote corporate accountability and transparency across the Gulf Region. And the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) leverages local partnerships to rid ports and canals of corruption. MACN’s efforts have notably benefited one of the world’s essential maritime channels, the Suez Canal, reducing demands for facilitation payments and tangibly improving the operating environment for all stakeholders.

What these initiatives all have in common is the idea of integrity beyond compliance. While abiding by anti-corruption laws is essential, it is frequently insufficient. To achieve truly transparent, accountable and honest markets, corporate leaders increasingly understand that they must often go above and beyond what is strictly required under the law to build a culture of integrity in within their organizations.

As we look towards the future, effective anti-corruption must be understood as a necessary foundation of a healthy and prosperous planet. We cannot meaningfully reduce carbon emissions and human rights violations, nor can we increase access to life-saving medicines and life-sustaining employment unless our political and economic systems are grounded in the principles of transparency, accountability and integrity.

Like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, corruption is a transnational and multisectoral problem that requires transnational and multisectoral solutions. Collective action and public-private collaboration will prove essential in the coming months and years as we shape a more equitable post-pandemic world and a more sustainable future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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