Corruption

What is International Anti-Corruption Day – and why is it important?

Corruption is a complex problem that affects social, political and economic aspects of all countries.

Corruption is a complex problem that affects social, political and economic aspects of all countries. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spike

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Corruption

  • International Anti-Corruption Day is recognized on 9 December each year, and highlights the action people can take to tackle corruption.
  • 2023 marks 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative has become the main CEO-led platform in the global anti-corruption arena and has around 90 signatories.

The United Nations describes corruption as a “plague” – an apt metaphors for a problem so closely linked to the world’s problems that it is undoubtedly an ailment in its own right.

International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD) is recognized on 9 December each year, and aims to highlight the issue of corruption, and the actions everyone can take to tackle it.

Here’s what to know about it and why it’s important.

How did Anti-Corruption Day begin?

Corruption is a complex problem that affects social, political and economic aspects of all countries. It undermines democracy by distorting elections and perverting the rule of law, as well as creating instability, and slowing economic growth.

As the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence transformation map on corruption notes, “corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain which harms the public interest, typically breaching laws, regulations, and standards of integrity.”

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was adopted in 2003 as the world’s first and only legally binding anti-corruption instrument. Since then, 190 parties have committed to its anti-corruption obligations; 9 December was designated as International Anti-Corruption Day, as a way to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the Convention in combating and preventing it.

“In order to fight corruption, you need to know the institutional tools that are available or you have to work for them to be created in the country,” Delia Matilde Ferreira Rubio, former Chair of Transparency International, told the Forum. “Apart from that, you have to understand the conditions that facilitate corruption, because corruption is societal.”

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What’s the theme in 2023?

2023 marks 20 years since the adoption of the UNCAC, offering a period to reflect on what it has meant for global efforts to tackle corruption.

The UNCAC is a unique tool and was created to provide a comprehensive way of responding to global corruption in its many forms – including bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions and various acts of corruption in the private sector. It aims to prevent and criminalize corruption and define specific acts. It also promotes international cooperation, the recovery and return of stolen assets, technical assistance and information exchange.

This year, IACD will highlight the link between anti-corruption and peace, security and development. It aims to promote the notion that tackling corruption is everyone’s right and responsibility. And without action from all parts of society, institutions and governments, we cannot overcome the negative impacts of corruption.

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Why is corruption such a problem?

Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. “Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis,” the organization says.

Corrupt behaviour could include, for example, public servants demanding or taking money in return for services; or politicians misusing public money or granting jobs and contracts to companies and people who are their friends or family; or companies bribing officials in order to get deals or outcomes that benefit them.

Corruption is a global problem.
Corruption is a global problem. Image: Transparency International

However, corruption can involve anyone from politicians, to business people to the general public.

And the costs are also multi-faceted: affecting the rule of law; trust in government and institutions; the environment and a sustainable future; and the economy and opportunities to grow wealth.

What can we do about corruption?

“There are two things that are key here – collective action and trust,” says Ferreira Rubio. “In order to be effective in collective action, we need dialogue between the different parts of society and different leaders. But we need to really build trust – it's essential in order to have cooperation in this kind of world with intertwined crises, a very politicized environment in some countries, fragmentation and polarization.”

Strengthening institutions in the private sector is also key to curbing corruption, experts say.

This includes establishing independent and credible mechanisms to ensure compliance with the rule of law and company policies. Moreover, oversight bodies such as audit or legal departments need to maintain the utmost degree of professionalism and be insulated from political pressures.

Anti-corruption efforts are included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), too. SDG 16—which promotes just, peaceful and inclusive societies—calls for the reduction of “corruption and bribery in all their forms.”

“Strengthening the rule of law and promoting human rights is key to this process, as is reducing the flow of illicit arms, combating corruption, and ensuring inclusive participation at all times,” SDG 16 notes.

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The World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) is a cross-industry effort aimed at addressing corruption, transparency and emerging-market risks. The initiative, which was established in 2004, leverages collective action and helps identify the key issues that shape the evolving nature of corruption in critical economic sectors.

PACI has become the principal CEO-led platform in the global anti-corruption arena and has around 90 signatories from across the world.

Later this month, UNCAC will host its first-ever Private Sector Forum in the United States. The gathering, which is supported by PACI and organized in collaboration with other UN agencies, aims to align business leaders on efforts to tackle corruption effectively.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about corruption?

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