UN anti-crime convention's role in countries, business tackling corruption reiterated

6th July 2023 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Senior Contributing Editor Online

Corruption has become “endemic” in many countries globally, including South Africa, having a multifaceted impact –  economic, social and environmental – however, there are initiatives under way to tackle this, and business needs to play a greater role.

This was indicated by speakers during a “Raising Awareness on Business Integrity and Corruption Prevention in South Africa” discussion, hosted by the Belgian Chamber of Commerce and various European chambers, and with the collaboration of the European Union Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Southern Africa. The event was held on July 5, co-hosted by Mazars in Johannesburg.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UN ODC) crime prevention and criminal justice officer Maria Adomeit emphasised that corruption severely affected countries’ sustainable development, as well as efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN.

She added that it affected the security and stability of States, and the foundations of all the democratic institutions. This, Adomeit said, eroded public trust.

She pointed out that corruption derailed economic growth and created uncertainty, because it undermined fair competition, discouraged investment, and increased the cost of doing business.

Corruption also has social costs, Adomeit noted, with it weakening State institutions and undermining democracy and human rights.

Moreover, she said corruption had an environmental cost, contributing to climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, besides other aspects.

She added that there were studies that showed a positive correlation between corruption and an increase in carbon emissions in developing countries, which contributed to climate change.


Therefore, it was vital that corruption be tackled, and one of the initiatives under way to do this was the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year.

Adomeit explained that the UNCAC was the only legally binding international anti-corruption instrument.

The UNCAC was adopted by the General Assembly Resolution in 2003, and it entered into force in 2005.

Adomeit said it had reached almost universal ratification, with 189 States having ratified the convention.

“It's quite a unique tool to create an anti-corruption framework in countries.”

In terms of the private sector, the UN ODC, which was the guardian of the convention, was developing tools and resources to strengthen the capacity of both public and private sector institutions, provide guidance on different topics covered by the convention, and was increasing awareness, Adomeit outlined.

“With all this, we are hoping to support companies to create healthy business environments and contribute to levelling the playing field in the countries that they operate,” she said.

Adomeit said the UNCAC, in many of its articles, promoted fair competition and integrity of markets.

She said States that had ratified this convention were legally bound to a number of its provisions, meaning they had to integrate and adapt their national legislation to the provisions of this convention.

She noted that these provisions aimed to level the playing field, promote standards that avert market distortions and also combat unfair competition, thereby aiming to ender more efficient economies.

Importantly, Article 26 required States to establish the liability of legal persons, which meant that in addition to the individuals, corporations, partnerships and other big business entities could be held criminally accountable for corruption, Adomeit said.

She outlined the business case for the private sector to also join the fight against corruption, noting that unethical behaviour and corrupt acts could constitute a business risk, lead to significant cost at an organisational level, including legal sanctions and fines, and could cause damage to brands’ reputations.

Ethical business practices, therefore, can ender quite tangible advantages, Adomeit highlighted.

Adomeit said that, as part of its work, the UN ODC was equipping future business leaders with ethical mindsets.

Also, it had ongoing projects with the business sector in several countries, providing future business leaders with anti-corruption education; it was strengthening anti-corruption capacities of some companies directly; and it was also working in the healthcare sector to address the corruption risk in the private sector, she highlighted.

In terms of its current tools, it had an ongoing global webinar series on business integrity, in collaboration with the UN Global Compact. It was also in the process of updating its e-learning tool for businesses, Adomeit informed.