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What is corruption?

We define corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.

Exposing corruption and holding the corrupt to account can only happen if we understand the way corruption works and the systems that enable it.

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What is corruption?

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The Basics

Corruption can take many forms, and can include behaviours like:

  • public servants demanding or taking money or favours in exchange for services,
  • politicians misusing public money or granting public jobs or contracts to their sponsors, friends and families,
  • corporations bribing officials to get lucrative deals

Corruption can happen anywhere: in business, government, the courts, the media, and in civil society, as well as across all sectors from health and education to infrastructure and sports.

Corruption can involve anyone: politicians, government officials, public servants, business people or members of the public.

Corruption happens in the shadows, often with the help of professional enablers such as bankers, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents, opaque financial systems and anonymous shell companies that allow corruption schemes to flourish and the corrupt to launder and hide their illicit wealth.

Corruption adapts to different contexts and changing circumstances. It can evolve in response to changes in rules, legislation and even technology.

See our anti-corruption glossary for more examples of corrupt behaviour

Corruptionary A-Z

The costs of corruption

A collage illustration with scales of justice standing in balance. On the left side, a pile of dollar bills stands on the weighing plate. On the right side, a boy is sitting on the weighing plate.

Political costs

Your freedom and rule of law.

A collage illustration of a Greek temple with four columns. On each columns are the words "judiciary", "executive", "legislature", "media". The triangular pediment of top of them features the word "democracy".

Social costs

Your participation and even your trust in government.

A collage illustration of a country scene. On the left side, in the foreground, is a house with solar panels on the roof. On the right side, is a single tree. Between them, in the foreground, a windmill for wind energy stands tall.

Environmental costs

Your chance for a healthy environment and a sustainable future.

A collage illustration of an urban scene. On the left side, in the foreground, is a single tree with a small bush. Between them, in the foreground, a windmill for wind energy stands tall. On the rightside, an hospital with an ambulance parked in front of its entrance. Between them, on the background, is a tall public housing building.

Economic costs

Your opportunity to build and grow wealth.

To Fight Corruption, We Must Embrace Transparency

Transparency is all about knowing who, why, what, how and how much. It means shedding light on formal and informal rules, plans, processes and actions. Transparency helps us, the public, hold all power to account for the common good.

Seeking and receiving information is a human right that can act as a safeguard against corruption, and increase trust in decision makers and public institutions. However, transparency is not only about making information available, but ensuring it can be easily accessed, understood and used by citizens.

But transparency is only the first step to curbing corruption

We have learned from over twenty-five years of experience that corruption can only be kept in check if representatives from government, business and civil society work together for the common good.

See our Strategy to know how Transparency International is working across society to enhance accountability and integrity

Our Strategy