There was no global convention aimed at curbing corruption, and no way to measure corruption or its impact at the global scale.
In the early 1990s, corruption was a taboo topic. Many companies regularly wrote off bribes as business expenses in their tax filings, and many international agencies were resigned to the fact that corruption would sap funding from many development projects around the world.
Having seen corruption’s impact during his work in East Africa, retired World Bank official, Peter Eigen and nine allies, set up a small organisation to tackle the taboo. Transparency International was established with a Secretariat in Berlin, the capital of a recently reunified Germany.
In our third year of operations, we expanded to 26 national chapters and published its groundbreaking first Corruption Perceptions Index. The index ranked 45 countries on their perceived level of corruption in the public sector. A milestone in efforts to measure corruption, the CPI was quickly picked up by media around the world, raising public awareness of corruption and triggering competition among countries to improve their scores.
Changing the game
By 1996, our movement had taken corruption from taboo to a talking point. Attitudes were noticeably changing. The new World Bank president spoke of the ‘cancer of corruption’; the Bank made anti-corruption performance a ‘condition of assistance’. The OECD adopted our recommendations urging members to deny the tax deductibility of foreign bribes, and the Organization of American States adopted a first-of-its-kind regional anti-corruption convention.
We also published our first TI Source Book that helped cement our systemic approach to fighting corruption.
Making foreign bribery a crime
Through our advocacy, we were able to push the 34 countries of the OECD to enact and enforce laws that prohibit paying bribes to authorities in other countries. Anyone falling foul of the OECD Convention could be prosecuted under national criminal laws. As a result of this convention, the United States paid US$1.56 billion in foreign bribery penalties in 2014 alone.
Established in 1983, the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) is a major event that brings over 1,500 anti-corruption activists and experts together every two years. In 1997, the Transparency International Secretariat became the official Secretariat for the IACC, the governing body of the Conference series.
Transparency International turns five
We celebrated our fifth birthday, capping a period when we started discussions on corruption and shattering the belief that ‘corruption was a problem for the developing world’. With the movement growing, former United States president Jimmy Carter joined our Advisory Council, and the 1998 Corruption Perceptions Index grew to 85 countries.
Examining bribery more closely
In 1999, several of our chapters played important roles to push their governments to implement the new OECD Foreign Bribery Convention, which has now been adopted by 40 countries responsible for the majority of global trade.
We also unveiled our first Bribe Payers Index that examines the supply side of bribery. The index ranks countries on the propensity of companies within their jurisdictions to bribe foreign governments in order to win business. In other words, how likely are countries to export corruption.
New millennium, new ideas
The turn of the new millennium saw us make several anti-corruption innovations. Working with 11 major international banks, we facilitated the creation of the Wolfsberg Anti-Money Laundering Principles that illustrates the role banks can play in anti-corruption efforts if they adopt better ‘Know Your Customer’ standards.
We organised the first Integrity Award (now the Global Anti-Corruption Award) to honour the courage and determination of people and organisations fighting corruption around the world. The first winner was Mustapha Adib, a Moroccan military officer jailed for blowing the whistle on an oil-and-supplies scam.
We published an updated TI Source Book that outlined our National Integrity System concept, a holistic approach to transparency. It analyses key institutions in society from police and courts to parliaments, the media and business and how they affect corruption.
During 2002, we expanded our reach to develop the Business Principles for Countering Bribery, with major corporations, trade unions, academics and other non-governmental organisations. This publication met a basic but important need, guiding companies on how to design and improve their anti-bribery programmes.
Our work was recognised when we were presented with the Carl Bertelsmann Prize for our innovative coalition-building approach to promoting transparency and accountability.
From my own experience, I can say that the united Nation's work on corruption benefitted enormously from the benchmarks developed by Transparency International.
Global recognition, local action
Ten years after our work began, the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was adopted and signed by 140 countries. This was the first global agreement that provided a comprehensive blueprint for reform and new mechanisms to combat corruption--a milestone for the global anti-corruption movement.
Our chapters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Romania opened our movement’s first Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs). These are one-stop shops where citizens can report corruption and find support to challenge it. To date, over 200,000 people have used our ALACs to report corruption
Business joins the movement
We were instrumental in developing the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) Principlesof the World Economic Forum. Under PACI, CEOs from over 125 major companies agreed to create anti-corruption programmes and adopt zero tolerance of bribery.
On 9 December – UNCAC’s one-year anniversary – our movement joined in celebrating the first International Anti-Corruption Day with our then 90 national chapters. In their first year of operations, our ALACs had received over 5,000 calls from concerned citizens.
UNCAC enters into force
In 2005, the world witnessed a major corruption scandal, the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal.
The United Nations Convention against Corruption entered into force, requiring its 140 signatories to enact and enforce criminal sanctions against a range of corrupt acts, while also cooperating more thoroughly to prevent corruption and recover illicitly gained assets. Our chapters had long advocated for UNCAC, and now turned toward ensuring that such conventions work more effectively. In 2005, we released our first progress report on the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, emphasising the need for more vigorous enforcement.
Our founder, Peter Eigen, joined the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) as chair of its International Advisory Group to increase the accountability of companies and governments in energy and mining sectors.
Focussing on water
We have always recognised that corruption disproportionately impacts the poor, and water is a shining example of this injustice: over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and nearly three times that number endure inadequate sanitation.
In 2006, we collaborated with three other NGOs to set up the Water Integrity Network (WIN). An autonomous organization, with a secretariat hosted by TI-S in Berlin, WIN promotes integrity in water and sanitation worldwide.
We also expanded the scope of our research: The Corruption Perceptions Index ranked 163 countries, the Global Corruption Barometer polled 60 countries, the Bribe Payers Index examined 30 leading export countries and we published 10 new National Integrity System assessments.
We spent much of 2007 pushing the powerful – in companies, governments and international bodies – to do more.
Our chapters pushed for more robust monitoring of the UN Convention Against Corruption and stronger enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the latter in its tenth year.
We also published our first G8 Progress Report, assessing the Group of 8 nations on the implementation of their anti-corruption commitments. The simple conclusion: ‘rhetoric exceeds action.’
In 2008 we piloted an approach to measure campaign and political party expenditures. First used in Latin America, and later Africa, Asia and Europe, our efforts address the flows of money in politics.
We published our first report on the transparency of the oil and gas industry to check the transparency of payments from firms to governments for resource extraction rights, finding room for improvement.
We collaborated with other civil society organisations to push the G8 to issue its first Accountability Report. The report charts major powers’ progress on their commitments, and showing that more needed to be done to fulfil past pledges.
There is nothing which holds back balanced and socially beneficial development more than corrupt business practices, and Transparency International is the forefront of the fight to root them out.
Redoubling our efforts after the crisis
As the world reeled from financial crisis, we renewed our push to make integrity and accountability cornerstones of business, government and society.
We published the Global Corruption Report that highlights the need for business to join the fight. We pushed the Group of 20 nations (G20) to reform regulations on loopholes like tax havens and prevent a return to ‘business as usual’.
Holding national politicians accountable
In 2010, we witnessed the unfurling of the Arab Spring with clear calls for more just and transparent societies. We began our largest National Integrity System (NIS) assessment to date, with European countries undertaking national assessments as part of a joint project. Our chapter in the United Kingdom, which had long advocated for better anti-corruption laws, celebrated the passage of a strong NIS.
Concern over the climate crisis
In 2011, we deepened our work on another global challenge: climate change. Publishing the Global Corruption report: Climate Change to show how corruption limits the impact of the billions of dollars invested in the climate. We also began developing tools to ensure that climate finance stays clean and serves its purpose of safeguarding citizens and the planet.
Innovation and reinforcement
During 2012, we continued to explore corruption, including a new methodology for the Corruption Perceptions Index. A decade on from their first tentative steps, our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) grew to over 50 countries and handled 120,000 calls from citizens concerned about corruption. Noting growth of the technology industry, with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook rapidly expanding, we expanded our reach by founding our first hackathon.
Solidarity against Grand Corruption
In 2016, we ended our “Unmask the Corrupt” campaign, part of the No Impunity initiative. The two-year campaign intended to expose and sanction the corrupt.
Since the corrupt hide their money in anonymous shell companies, we lobbied governments to mandate public registries of the owners of all companies. To stop the corrupt enjoying the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains, we called for greater use of travel bans. We also called for the luxury goods industry – from property to jewelry – to be compelled to find out if the money used to buy them was earned legally.
Expanding our research and advocacy
In 2017, we developed and launched the Anti-Corruption Knowledge Hub, an online space where we present our research output. As the home of the Anti-Corruption Helpdesk, TI’s expert network, it hosts many of the studies, tools and knowledge which lie behind our work, providing access to a series of topic guides and country-specific research.
We also established the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium (GACC), a partnership that combines our advocacy with investigative journalism from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). In its first year, GACC made significant contributions towards policy change in response to money-for-influence scandals and global money laundering schemes, with the publication of the Azerbaijan Laundromat and subsequent public pressure.
The Azerbaijani Laundromat: Transparency International & OCCRP
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25 years of Transparency International
In 2018, our researchers released a landmark report how the United Nation’s leading shipping agency, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was susceptible to private industry influence and unlikely to meet its carbon emission reduction goals—unless it quickly changed its accountability policies.
This year, we held the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Copenhagen, where over 1600 participants pioneering the fight against corruption gathered to discuss new research and innovative approaches. At the IACC, government ministers and leaders from different sectors issued commitments and a joint statement to advance anti-corruption efforts.
2018 was a celebration of our 25th anniversary.
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A crisis of democracy
The year began with a sobering analysis of how corruption has contributed to the current threat to democracy as part of the Corruption Perceptions Index. Our research shows a disturbing link between corruption and the health of democracies, where countries with higher rates of corruption also have weaker democratic institutions and political rights.
We also published three Global Corruption Barometers – Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa. For the first time, the surveys included question on sexual extortion, or sextortion – where the currency of a bribe is sex. The evidence was damning: one in five people experiences sextortion when accessing a government service, like health care or education, or knows someone who has.