Private sector engagement in the fight against corruption is critical in promoting economic development, ensuring fair and safe markets and the overall well-being of societies. By embracing ethical business practices, complying with anti-corruption laws and demonstrating a commitment to business integrity, the private sector can be an important driver to inspire and support positive change.
Corruption affects all areas of society, especially the most vulnerable groups. It undermines good governance, erodes trust, wastes resources and stifles overall economic and social development. Engaging the private sector in the promotion of ethical business practices is therefore critical to fostering a culture of business integrity and equal opportunities.
The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides a framework for preventing and combating corruption in business operations. By adhering to the Convention, companies can protect their reputation, reduce operational risks, increase competitiveness, and contribute to sustainable development.
Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said: “Through the Convention, the international community has taken major strides against corruption, establishing strong legal frameworks, reforming institutions, and bolstering international cooperation.”
A business environment characterized by integrity ensures a safe business environment, promotes fair competition, and attracts foreign investment.
Businesses that operate with integrity create an environment conducive to innovation. When companies compete fairly and invest in research and development, they can drive innovation and contribute to economic growth.
On the other hand, corrupt practices and unethical behaviour are business risks for companies, from the distortion of markets and unfair competition, to increased costs and missed business opportunities, as well as legal and reputational risks. Due to its scale and complexity, neither governments nor the private sector can tackle corruption alone. in fact, major corruption cases frequently occur at the intersection between the two.
Collective action between the public and private sectors, youth, and academia is essential to strengthen business integrity and promote transparency and accountability. The private sector can take measures within their own operations and by joining forces with other stakeholders to foster a culture of integrity in business operations.
Governments can also encourage companies to invest in internal governance structures and anti-corruption ethics and compliance programmes, through incentives for business integrity which have a strong potential for impact.
The private sector creates jobs and prosperity, drives technical innovation and fosters entrepreneurship. Large and small businesses therefore play a significant role in preventing and reducing corruption in the markets where they operate.
Since the UN Convention against Corruption was adopted 20 years ago, much has changed for businesses and societies. More and more States have enacted laws on corporate compliance and criminalized unethical business practices. Bribes that once used to be tax deductible now lead to hefty fines and even the dissolution of companies. In 2004, the establishment of Principle 10 of the UN Global Compact began challenging companies to actively develop strategies and policies that tackle corruption. Principle 10 calls for businesses to work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
Today, rising expectations from consumers, investors, governments and employees have increasingly placed business integrity at the forefront of the private sector’s agenda. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) directives are adopted worldwide, raising the bar for companies to not only be more accountable, ethical, inclusive and transparent, but to also act as responsible corporate citizens, contributing to strengthening public institutions, laws and systems.
On the sidelines of the event, the Private Sector Forum, organized by UNODC with the United Nations Global Compact on 11 and 12 December, brings together the public and private sectors, civil society, academia and youth to shape the global business integrity agenda. The Forum will discuss the achievements since the adoption of the Convention and Principle 10 of the UN Global Compact and examine their relevance today. UNODC is the guardian of UN Global Compact’s Principle 10, urging businesses to work against corruption in all its forms in line with UNCAC.
In a Call-to-Action, put forward before the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), numerous companies are demonstrating their ethical leadership and appealing to governments to intensify action against corruption worldwide. The Call-to-Action urges governments to underscore anti-corruption and good governance as fundamental pillars of a sustainable and inclusive global economy. Aligning with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this appeal has been signed by companies globally and will be submitted at the 10th session of the Conference of the States Parties.
UNODC collaborates with partners like the United Nations Global Compact to develop resources and guidance to strengthen corporate integrity. UNODC and the United Nations Global Compact recently launched their first joint project, entitled “Uniting Leaders for Business Integrity”, aimed at promoting business integrity and fostering collective action to strengthen anti-corruption policies and legal frameworks applicable to the private sector. UNODC has developed a range of tools and resources that companies can use to learn how to create healthy business environments and contribute towards levelling the playing field in the countries where they operate. The resources are available on the UNODC Business Integrity Portalhttps://businessintegrity.unodc.org/.
UNODC is also actively engaged in projects aimed at strengthening business integrity in 17 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. These projects involve providing technical assistance, capacity-building, and guidance on anti-corruption responses in line with the UN Convention against Corruption.
In Kenya, Mexico and Pakistan, UNODC's Global Integrity Education project developed 16 localized university modules on business integrity. This effort engaged university lecturers, business representatives, and more than 35,000 students, with eight universities incorporating these modules into their curricula.
UNODC organized the Coding4Integrity Youth Hackathon in Mexico earlier this year, empowering students and software developers to create technological solutions for transparency in the health-care system. The initiative aimed to combat counterfeit medicine and involved around 60 participants aged 18 to 35.
In Colombia, UNODC conducted a corruption risk assessment in the energy sector, leading to joint policy recommendations and a collective action agreement. This involved webinars and training sessions for private sector representatives to promote business integrity in the energy sector.
UNODC provided on-the-job training for businesses, offering corruption risk assessment training and other resources to more than 300 business representatives. This training helped businesses understand how to mitigate risks and develop comprehensive compliance programmes.
UNODC is seeking funding to continue and enlarge what it does to strengthen business integrity such as advancing legislative reforms to prevent and counter corruption in the private sector, developing more tools to foster anti-corruption in supply chains and promoting female entrepreneurs as drivers of business integrity.