Generally speaking as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.

Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good.

Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies.

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Definitions for some other commonly used anti-corruption terms can be found in our Plain Language Guide. 


Transparency is about shedding light on rules, plans, processes and actions. It is knowing why, how, what, and how much. Transparency ensures that public officials, civil servants, managers, board members and businessmen act visibly and understandably, and report on their activities. And it means that the general public can hold them to account. It is the surest way of guarding against corruption, and helps increase trust in the people and institutions on which our futures depend.


Our three guiding principles are: build partnerships, proceed step-by-step, and stay non-confrontational. We have learned from experience that corruption can only be kept in check if representatives from government, business and civil society work together to develop standards and procedures they all support. We also know that corruption can’t be rooted out in one big sweep. Rather, fighting it is a step-by-step, project-by-project process. Our non-confrontational approach is necessary to get all relevant parties around the negotiating table.


Corruption impacts societies in a multitude of ways. In the worst cases, it costs lives. Short of this, it costs people their freedom, health, or money. The cost of corruption can be divided into four main categories: political, economic, social, and environmental.

  • On the political front, corruption is a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they’re misused for private advantage. This is harmful in established democracies, but even more so in newly emerging ones. It is extremely challenging to develop accountable political leadership in a corrupt climate.
  • Economically, corruption depletes national wealth. Corrupt politicians invest scarce public resources in projects that will line their pockets rather than benefit communities, and prioritise high-profile projects such as dams, power plants, pipelines and refineries over less spectacular but more urgent infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads. Corruption also hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, which in turn deters investment.
  • Corruption corrodes the social fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. A distrustful or apathetic public can then become yet another hurdle to challenging corruption.
  • Environmental degradation is another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of, or non-enforcement of, environmental regulations and legislation means that precious natural resources are carelessly exploited, and entire ecological systems are ravaged. From mining, to logging, to carbon offsets, companies across the globe continue to pay bribes in return for unrestricted destruction.


By its nature, corruption is secretive and complex. Given that bribes occur illicitly, however, a specific figure can only ever be approximate, and it excludes other corrupt transactions such as the embezzlement of public funds or theft of public assets, or non-monetary bribes such as favours, services and gifts. Analyses which focus on the movement of money also ignore the social costs of corruption, which are impossible to quantify. No one knows how much the loss of a talented entrepreneur or an acclaimed scientist costs a country. Who can say what social malaise, illiteracy, inadequate medical care or means in economic terms? Over time, however, research has shown us that people’s perceptions offer a reliable estimate of the nature and scope of corruption in a given country. The perceptions of country analysts, business people or the general public form the basis of our corruption indices, the Corruption Perceptions Index and the Global Corruption Barometer. For more information, see our Research section. 


Corruption thrives where temptation meets permissiveness: where institutional checks on power are missing, where decision making is opaque, where civil society is disempowered. It is therefore important to establish control mechanisms and systemic hurdles to prevent people from abusing their power.


While there are varying norms and traditions in terms of giving and accepting gifts around the world, clearly the abuse of power for personal gain -the siphoning off of public or common resources into private pockets- is unacceptable in all cultures and societies. This is confirmed by our Global Corruption Barometer survey, which analyses people’s views and experiences of corruption in more than 60 countries. The forms and causes of corruption vary across countries, however, meaning that the best ways to address it differ too. This is why our approach to fighting corruption is grounded in our system of national chapters, which are run by people who are anchored in their societies and are therefore in the best position to understand and tackle corruption in their respective countries.