//International Treaties and Corruption
International Treaties and Corruption

International Treaties and Corruption

International efforts to combat corruption can be understood as being a largely U.S. driven response to a series of scandals during the 1970s, such as the Watergate scandal in 1972, and perhaps more relevantly to the development of international treaties, the Lockheed scandal in the late 1970s. Indeed, Schroth (2003, p. 87) goes as far as to state that “any discussion of international measures against corruption and bribery must begin with the United States”. There is considerable merit in evaluating the growth in international treaties through this particular theoretical lens. Indeed, prior to the corruption eruption in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was limited international attention paid to dealing with corruption through international treaties, albeit with a notable exception. Following a series of scandals regarding the conduct of U.S. business internationally (most notably the Lockheed Scandal), there was a push within the U.S. to clamp down on corruption. This push culminated in the adoption of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, which sought to heavily penalise U.S. firms who were engaging in corruption overseas (Stessens, 2001, p. 896; Perlman and Sykes, 2017). Indeed, Kidane and Snider (2007, p. 696) go as far as to refer to the Watergate scandal as sine qua non[1] in efforts to address corruption through policy interventions and it serves as the genesis for later U.S. intentions to advance international treaty and convention efforts to tackle corruption as the de jure approach emphasised by the U.S. through the UN and other international organisations. Some even see the first UN treaty aimed at cracking down on corruption as a way in which to level the playing field for U.S. business. However, the International Agreement on Illicit Payments ultimately failed to be adopted in 1979 (Perlman and Sykes, 2017; Stessens, 2001) and it was not until the “corruption eruption” and the period from the mid-1990s onwards that international attempts to combat corruption through treaties and conventions again regained steam, with a swathe of international conventions being signed, ratified, and enforced (Cole, 2015, p. 60).

This post is part of a masters thesis titled: Corrupting Perceptions – An Analysis of The Impact Of The United Nations Convention Against Corruption On Corruption Perception Index Scores. You can find the full thesis available at this link.

Since the development of the first international anti-corruption convention, the Inter-American Corruption Convention (IACC) back in 1996, there existed a period of considerable growth in the usage of conventions to advance the structural changes necessary to reduce corruption internationally. We can see this clearly in the work of Guerzovich (2012, p. 20), where it is stated that, while international conventions such as IACC and indeed the UNCAC may struggle to be effective in absolute terms, they can be an effective way to perform certain functions, particularly in relation to the “long-term institutionalization of the agenda at country level”. That conventions and treaties signify a more concerted effort to institutionalise anti-corruption efforts, serves as an important point when one seeks to understand the direction in which the “corruption eruption” of the time was going. Indeed, Guerzovich (2012, p. 20) states that “[t]he message is simple: Conventions are here to stay”. Given the increase in international attention paid to corruption during this period and more specifically the rise in the volume of conventions focused on tackling corruption (as can be seen in Table 1), it is important to note that advocates were wary of the shortfalls and challenges of conventions and treaties, and held consistent in the belief that such conventions serve as a roadmap and not the end of the road in the fight against corruption. To this end, Guerzovich (2012, p. 20) goes on to state that “[t]here are strong reasons to suspect that working through anti-corruption conventions is not and will not be an option for advocates, but a structural given in the foreseeable future. Conventions have become a shared substantive roadmap for state and non-state actors in this field”. We can see this growth in the volume of international anti-corruption conventions in Table 1 below.

ConventionDate of AdoptionDate Entered into Force
Convention On The Protection Of The EC Financial Interests26 Jul 199517 Oct 2002
OAS Inter-American Convention Against Corruption29 March 19966 March 1997
EU Convention Against Corruption Involving Officials26 May 199728 Sept 2005
OECD Anti-Bribery Convention


17 Dec 199715 Feb 1999
COE Criminal Law Convention On Corruption27 Jan 19991 July 2002
COE Civil Law Convention On Corruption4 Nov 19991 Nov 2003
United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime15 Nov 200029 Sept 2003
SADC Protocol Against Corruption


14 August 20016 July 2005
ECOWAS Protocol On The Fight Against Corruption21 Dec 2001
African Union Convention On Preventing And Combating Corruption11 July 20035 Aug 2006
United Nations Convention Against Corruption31 Oct 200314 Dec 2005

Table 1: International Anti-Corruption Conventions and Treaties.


Indeed, the growth in international treaties, which were focused on reducing the level of corruption, was in part inspired by the need for international enforcement cooperation (Snider and Kidane, 2007, p. 739). Due to the changing nature of corruption, in that it more commonly consisted of the conduct or indeed omissions in two or more countries or with people from two or more countries, domestic policy was not seen as such an effective control with regards corruption. There was a greater requirement that, for enforcement of ambitious policy to be effective, it needed to be formalised through the development of international treaties to more effectively institutionalise this co-operation amongst countries (Snider and Kidane, 2007, p. 739). Indeed, it was during this period of the considerable expansion of international treaty and convention efforts that scholars began to speak more of the existence of international anti-corruption regimes (Rosenvinge, 2009, p. 785), in which a growing web of international treaties covered the complex nature in which states and firms must operate and comply.  It is through this theoretical lens that we can begin to evaluate the broader effectiveness of international treaties and conventions and, indeed, examine the motivations surrounding ratification, in general, and early ratification, in particular.

[1] Something which is absolutely indispensable or essential

All references are available at this link.

Jason Deegan is a PhD Candidate (Stipendiat) and research fellow at the University of Stavanger. His work primarily focuses on; Innovation, Regional Studies, Smart Specialisation and Policy.