For information only – not an official document

13 December 2023

Corruption and the Sustainable Development Goals

Urgent global commitment needed to safeguard sustainable development from corruption

ATLANTA, 13 December (UN Information Service) - The impact of global crises has already taken a severe toll on progress towards reaching the 17 Global Goals by the end of the decade. As the world passes the halfway mark to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, tackling corruption is a vital part of the action needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Corruption poses grave risks to peace, global security and sustainable development. It also weakens national institutions, prevents gender equality and access to fair and adequate health care. When the public perceives government performance as poor or corrupt, it undermines the social contract and contributes to the “trust deficit” that UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned of. This “trust deficit” is closely linked to a decline in trust in public institutions.

Corruption stifles economic growth. When corruption is widespread, foreign direct investments are discouraged. Businesses are reluctant to invest in national markets where competition is not fair or transparent. In addition, the cost of doing business can be high, and there are significant legal and reputational risks for companies and investors.

Corruption also diverts funds from vital services like health care, education, access to clean water, sanitation and housing. It poses a major obstacle to a government’s ability to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

With just seven years left to achieve the Global Goals, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, urges action to secure a more sustainable future, noting that global crises are “relentlessly eroding the development gains of the last decade at an alarming rate”.

The UN Secretary-General has also called for resolute action from all sectors of society, including academia, civil society and the private sector. Moreover, he called for innovative approaches to counter the threats posed by corruption today and in the future.  

Global unity needed to recognize threat of corruption (SDG 16)

Thirty years ago, corruption was not even discussed in international settings. Today, there is unanimous agreement that corruption undermines the rule of law, posing a threat to governance systems and to sustainable development.

A report by the United Nations published earlier this year shows that progress towards achieving Goal 16, which calls for peace, justice and strong institutions, is dangerously off track.

Data collected by UNODC along with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) show that violence and insecurity have become pervasive in many parts of the world, and corruption and unresponsive governments have undermined social contracts while countries are backsliding on their human rights obligations.

Violence surged in 2022 with 53 per cent more civilians killed in war operations compared to the previous year. Intentional homicide peaked in 2021, and the percentage of children, who were victims of human trafficking rose from 28 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent in 2021. Justice remains elusive for many, with less than half of crimes being reported, and around 30 per cent of global detainees are unsentenced. Widespread corruption persists, especially in low- and middle-income countries, impacting individuals and businesses.

Despite this bleak outlook, there is reason to be optimistic. The landmark declaration adopted by world leaders at the SDG Summit in New York in September recommitted governments to game-changing action. Executive Director Ghada Waly said accelerated action would give a clear path forward and: “…even in today’s deeply polarized and fractured world, it is possible to come together and reach consensus in a multilateral forum.”

Corruption undermines gender equality (SDG 5)

Corruption harms people of all genders as it reduces trust in institutions and erodes the foundations of democracy and a functioning economy. Corruption especially affects women and children because it diverts resources from many projects intended to end poverty. Vast sums of money are lost to corruption that could be used to improve living standards and increase access to housing, health, education, and clean water.

Corruption frequently puts women in vulnerable positions, excluding them from making decisions and limiting their chances for educational and economic advancement. Women can also be at greater risk of encountering certain kinds of corruption when using public services. When corruption erodes the efficiency of public services or reduces a government’s tax income, this can lead to deteriorated public healthcare, education or social services and is likely to impact women and children more than men.

How corruption affects young people (SDG 4)

Young people are affected by corruption just as everyone else in society, causing hardship and distress. Corruption can affect the prospects of children and youth for a decent future by reducing their educational opportunities, their chances of employment and their access to healthcare and other basic services.

To effectively promote a culture of integrity and build a generation that stands up to corruption, education is key. Young people are important catalysts to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) which ensures quality education and lifelong learning for all. They can promote integrity and ethical behaviour in their social circles, and they can drive change by developing innovative solutions in their communities.

Impact of corruption on public health (SDG 3)

Ensuring access to good healthcare for all is important for sustainable development and the promotion of a healthy life for people of all ages (SDG 3). Corruption poses a significant threat to public health, undermining the quality and availability of health services, inflating costs, and draining resources from communities.

Corruption can result in embezzlement of healthcare funds, limiting access to medical services, medications and medical facilities, especially for vulnerable populations. Corruption can also lead to inflated drug prices and divert medicines intended for public health, leaving patients without essential treatments.

Efforts to address corruption and enhance transparency (SDG 16) can contribute to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare for all and particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.

How UNODC is accelerating anti-corruption action in countries around the world

UNODC has long delivered on-the-ground anti-corruption technical assistance. This has now been accelerated through the introduction of regional hubs and platforms which guide anti-corruption efforts and help countries coordinate efforts and share best practices.

There are now seven regional platforms covering Central America, Eastern Africa, South America and Mexico, South-East Asia, South-East Europe, Southern Africa, West Africa and the Sahel.

UNODC is working with governments and stakeholders worldwide, and has reached more than 11,000 anti-corruption practitioners, supporting the establishment and strengthening of anti-corruption laws and policies, and training officials to combat corruption.

UNODC's technical assistance extends to 108 countries across all regions globally. It has supported 18 countries in the process of strengthening or establishing anti-corruption laws and policies, providing crucial legal and policy expertise.

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Further information for the media

Conference website of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Conference website of the Host Country

Webcasts of the Plenary meetings will be available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish as well as the language spoken on the conference floor.

For further information contact:

Martin Nesirky
Spokesperson for the COSP10
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5676
Email: martin.nesirky[at]

Ahmed Maaty
Speechwriter & Communications
Officer, UNODC
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5244
Email: ahmed.maaty[at]

Follow @UNODC and @UN_Vienna on X & @unitednationsvienna on Instagram for CoSP10 updates.

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