Almost two thirds of the world’s population – some 4.7 billion people – live in a country represented at the annual G20 summit, which this year takes place in Osaka, Japan, 28 – 29 June.
G20 economies control 85 per cent of global GDP and over 75 per cent of global trade. Although there have recently been doubts about the ability of the G20 to find common ground in an age of increasing trade wars, isolationism and protectionism, the group’s global reach still makes it an important forum for shaping policy.
Recent scandals make clear that the globalisation of world trade and finance has been accompanied by an internationalisation of corruption. The G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG), which works with governments on their anti-corruption measures, therefore has the potential to be a very important partner in the fight for a more just world.
The ACWG met in Mexico City recently, as part of its preparations for Osaka summit. Transparency International and our Mexican chapter, Transparencia Mexicana, were there too, making the case for the G20 to take action in some key areas.
First, there’s some housekeeping to be taken care of. Over the years, the G20 has made more than 60 anti-corruption commitments, covering areas like asset recovery, asset disclosures by public officials, anonymous company ownership, conflicts of interest, open data and public procurement.
That’s great. But they are yet to implement many of their own recommendations.
Last year, in an effort to get through to the leaders gathering at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we took out public adverts around the summit imploring them to act on their existing commitments.
Unfortunately, the job of holding the G20 to account is made more difficult by the fact that even basic information about what progress has been made, or when steps will be taken by G20 countries, is lacking.
As a priority, the ACWG should increase accountability over the G20’s anti-corruption progress. Specifically, G20 countries should publish accountability reports for each of their commitments, to help ensure that words turn into action.
2019 has already been a landmark year for whistleblower protection in the G20. The new EU directive on whistleblower protection and the recent private-sector reform adopted in Australia contain very advanced provisions.
The G20 should build on this momentum to adopt and implement G20 High Level Principles on Whistleblowing. These should be in line with international standards and best practice, such as the TI International Principles for Whistleblowing Legislation.
All whistleblowers in G20 countries should have access to reliable, gender-sensitive channels to report wrongdoing and robust protection from all forms of retaliation. The information they disclose should also be used to guide reforms and prevent future wrongdoing.
This is where the G20’s existing commitments could make an enormous difference, if they were properly implemented. Time and again, we’ve seen how anonymous shell companies in secrecy jurisdictions are the key ingredient to making corrupt infrastructure schemes work.
If companies were forced to disclose their real owners, then there would be fewer opportunities to disguise bribes and kickbacks, and hide conflicts of interest in the awarding of public contracts.
The G20 adopted High Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency (i.e. who really owns what) in 2014, but our latest assessment of their progress found that they are lagging behind when they should be leading.
More openness in contracting and greater citizen participation in public procurement would also reduce the risk of public funds being siphoned off into the pockets of politicians and their cronies. As an example of how this can work, our chapter in Peru ran an experiment in which social audits were applied to a series of small infrastructure projects, saving the taxpayer US$8 million.
Corruption disproportionately affects women. In their role as caregivers in many parts of the world, women experience corruption in their daily lives — from interactions with school officials to health care providers.
Women are also especially vulnerable to some specific forms of corruption, such as sextortion, where sex is the currency of the bribe.
Corruption presents a barrier for women to gain full access to their civic, social and economic rights. In addition to the clear moral reasons for G20 leaders to promote gender equality, women’s equal participation in the workplace would create huge benefits for the global economy.
The ACWG has made a welcome commitment in this area in its latest action plan. Now both the working group and G20 members should mainstream gender-specific approaches in all anti-corruption work, and support women’s participation in public life worldwide.
Any High Level Principles adopted by the G20 this year under Japan’s presidency should be at the highest possible standard. Through resources like our principles for whistleblower protection legislation, civil society can help governments ensure that this is the case.
Civil society can also contribute to increased transparency and make sure that outcomes are credibly evaluated. Although the ACWG invites civil society representatives to their meetings, there is room for more meaningful engagement.
We’re ready to help the G20 play its part in reducing corruption worldwide. Between now and the end of June, we’ll find out if they are any more serious about taking the lead.
Text credit: Transparency International. Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption for the last 25 years.