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Corruption is generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can take many forms that vary in degree, ranging from the minor use of influence, to institutionalised bribery. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes that corruption can harm democratic institutions, undermine attempts by citizens to achieve higher levels of economic, social and environmental welfare, and impede efforts to reduce poverty. As a result, it has created a full chapter on the topic in its Guidelines for Multinational Corporations (MNCs), to remind enterprises that they have an important role to play in combating these practices.

The UN Guiding Principles recognise that corruption can undermine access to remedy for victims of human rights abuse. Accordingly, States should ensure that “Procedures for the provision of remedy should be impartial, protected from corruption and free from political or other attempts to influence the outcome”. [Commentary to UNGP 25].

Businesses may directly and indirectly adversely impact human rights through corruption in a number of ways. For example, the supply of counterfeit or expired drugs adversely impacts the right to health of vulnerable people (Fletcher and Herrmann; 2012). In 2017, the UK Serious Fraud Office confirmed its investigation of claims that British American Tobacco (BAT) was involved in bribery and corruption in East Africa to obstruct the passing and implementation of tobacco control legislation that helped save millions of lives in the Global North. In Thailand, an International Labour Office report on the country’s fishing sector documented allegations that corruption and complicity by government officials has enabled a human trafficking gang to routinely torture and execute migrant workers who attempt to flee.


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Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – Issues: Corruption

Key laws & international principles addressing corruption include:

Corruption and Human rights

Private sector & corruption

Disclosure & use of government revenues from the private sector:

What National Action Plans say on Corruption