Combatting corruption with ISO standards

9 December is International Anti-Corruption Day, an opportunity to raise awareness of the ISO standards that help shape a fairer and more just world.

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Elizabeth  Gasiorowski-Denis
Por Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
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Systemic bribery, among other things, lowers economic growth and discourages investment. It goes hand in hand with poverty and social inequality. But, most importantly, for the UN Global Agenda 2030 to take hold, renewed attention and focus must be given to curbing all forms and manifestations of corruption worldwide.

2021 is a landmark year for global anti-corruption action with efforts to step up anti-corruption initiatives and accelerate implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption – the only global and truly comprehensive legally binding instrument against this crime.

On the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day, we chat with Kevin Brear who has been combatting bribery and corruption for over 35 years, firstly as a City of London police officer and now working in the private sector. Giving expression to this lifelong commitment, he devotes endless hours to helping organizations avoid conducting business with bad people and bad companies. As the recently elected Chair of technical committee ISO/TC 309, Governance of organizations (effective 1 January 2022), Brear has made it his mission to put ISO standards on the centre stage of fighting corruption.

We sat down with Kevin Brear to get his insights on today’s most pressing corruption challenges, the impact of corruption on social and economic development and how ISO standards can contribute to a corruption-free world.


Kevin Brear

Chair of ISO/TC 309, Governance of organizations
(effective 1 January 2022)

Kevin Brear
What are today’s most urgent or challenging anti-corruption matters?
Kevin Brear

The global economic cost of corruption is simply astounding and it undermines the efforts of all countries to improve the lives of their citizens. The World Economic Forum estimated, in 2018, that USD 2.6 trillion, or 5 % of global GDP, were lost to corruption. Despite many countries’ best efforts, that situation has not really improved and it is the poor and most vulnerable in the world who suffer the most from the impacts of corruption. Governments reportedly spend USD 7.5 trillion per year on providing healthcare to the world’s citizens, but USD 500 billion, or 7 %, of that are lost due to corruption.

The World Health Organization has estimated that the cost of providing free healthcare to all the world’s citizens would be USD 370 billion. It has also been reported that corruption indirectly adds to the everyday cost of living for people, and, ultimately, it can lead to raised production costs and reduce the profitability of investments. Again, all of these impacts are most keenly felt in developing economies.

There are a significant number of standards and guidelines on anti-corruption. What is the added value of ISO standards (versus others)?

ISO standards are developed using a consensus-driven approach, built on a foundation of proven good practices. The standards developers themselves are drawn from the ranks of the world’s best experts in their respective fields. Consequently, the published standards are designed to be applicable to all organizations, regardless of size, industry sector, geographical location or political persuasion. This means that ISO standards can provide consistent benchmarks, better practices and common methodologies that all organizations can leverage and adopt.

Experts in ISO technical committees (TCs) can also take a strategic approach to understanding industry needs for their documents. For example, the experts in TC 309 first produced ISO 37000, which provided guidance on governance for organizations. The TC members then built on that solid foundation by publishing ISO 37001 (anti-bribery management), ISO 37002 (whistleblowing) and ISO 37301 (compliance management). TC 309 experts are currently developing a standard on internal investigations and a new proposal is in the pipeline to develop a standard on anti-fraud measures. Taken all together, these standards can be used to provide a more integrated approach to the global fight against corruption.

How are ISO standards concretely contributing to combatting corruption, particularly ISO 37001?

ISO 37001, Anti-bribery management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, has been well received around the globe for its value in the fight against bribery and corruption. Indeed, it has already been adopted by a number of globally renowned organizations, such as Microsoft (USA), Alstom (France), Eni (Italy) and SKK Migas (Indonesia).

The value of ISO 37001 has also been recognized by global governments and administrations, leading to its early adoption by Peru and Singapore. Interestingly, the standard has also been cited as recommended good practice by a number of international sporting bodies. It will be very exciting to see how it is further adopted and leveraged over the coming months and years.

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