How to combat the corrosive impact of corruption

Fighting corruption is key to global development. International Standards can help restore transparency. 

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The ISO Annual Meeting will be held in Brisbane, Australia, on 18-22 September 2023. ISO and its members join ranks with world change makers to showcase how International Standards help tackle the world’s greatest challenges. Published in the lead-up to the event, our series of guest articles provides insight into a variety of topics that will be discussed during the week.

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Epsy Campbell Barr
Former Vice-President of Costa Rica; member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent

We are living in challenging times that demand a genuine commitment to transparency and efficiency. Corruption remains one of the major issues affecting our political systems and societies, significantly hindering development, particularly in the poorest and middle-income countries, where vulnerability to this phenomenon is high.

A global problem

Each year, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). In 2022, more than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 and the global average was just 43. Perhaps most worryingly, 155 countries have made no significant progress – or have actually declined – since 2012.

It is vital to recognize corruption as a multi-dimensional problem across governments, companies and organizations. It leads to inefficiencies in managing both public resources and private investments, with wide-ranging impacts.

Undermining trust

The damage caused by corruption goes far beyond financial systems and the management of resources, however. It erodes trust. The legitimacy of the state apparatus is crucial for ensuring peace and coexistence, thereby preventing the rise of totalitarian and populist regimes that exploit citizen unrest and dissatisfaction.

There are also concrete ties between corruption, organized crime and terrorism; a reality which is all too obvious in parts of the world.

By addressing corruption in all its forms, we can safeguard democracies and enhance the overall wellbeing of countries and people everywhere.

Combatting corruption leads to increased confidence and stability.

Transparency is key

Combatting corruption leads to increased confidence and stability. In a clean system, public funds will reach their intended destinations, providing an extraordinary opportunity to modernize the state apparatus and restore political system credibility. Transparency is the key to achieving this.

At the same time, modern societies are swiftly moving towards open data systems that seek greater citizen control and participation. It’s imperative to concentrate our efforts on raising awareness among all stakeholders – public, private and international – and encouraging them to adopt best practices. By improving transparency, we have the power to enhance efficiency, accountability and integrity.

The crucial role of International Standards

International Standards offer a comprehensive framework of best practices and guidelines that can help everyone prevent and mitigate the risks of corruption – from governments and companies, to individuals. These standards therefore represent a significant improvement opportunity for our countries, particularly if accompanied by platforms and opportunities to share best practices and experiences.

By adhering to ISO standards, we can significantly contribute to achieving global goals and addressing challenges, such as those outlined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. ISO standards focusing on fighting corruption (ISO 37001), strengthening social responsibility (ISO 26000) and more sustainable procurement (ISO 20400) are essential tools for governments. Using these, public institutions can lead by example, improving their public perception and credibility.

In September 2023, the ISO Annual Meeting will provide exactly such a platform. With discussion addressing governance and best practices in the fight against corruption, it will prioritize a gender-sensitive approach and emphasize environmental sustainability as strategic priorities.

I am honoured to have been invited to speak and to highlight the importance of ISO standards in fighting corruption. Their implementation isn’t just an end goal in itself, but a key part of our collaborative efforts in the shared fight against corruption.


About Epsy Campbell Barr 

Epsy Campbell Barr made history as the first black female Vice-President of Costa Rica (2018-2022) and in the Americas. She has been active in Afro-Caribbean affairs since entering politics and is an expert in social development issues, political participation of women of African descent, and equality. Epsy is currently a member of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent of the United Nations. 

Epsy Campbell Barr will be speaking at the upcoming ISO Annual Meeting. Join the online session “Building back trust: All together against corruption” for a pragmatic look at how ISO standards can help develop anti-fraud and corruption measures in the public and private sectors. Register here 



About the ISO Annual Meeting

The ISO Annual Meeting is the world’s premier event for the international standards community. It convenes 168 national standards bodies from around the world, as well as an impressive range of government, industry and civil society representatives. This high-level forum is a unique opportunity to engage in timely discussion on emerging trends and challenges related to International Standards and their role in achieving the global sustainable development agenda.

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