New Equal Rights Trust – Transparency International study on the links between discrimination and corruption


Transparency International, illustrations courtesy of Andrea Fonseca


Corruption and discrimination each pose major obstacles to an equal and inclusive world. Until now, they have largely been examined in isolation from one another.

Today, the Equal Rights Trust and Transparency International launch a new study: Defying Exclusion: Stories and Insights on the Links between Discrimination and Corruption. This ground-breaking report is the first global study to investigate the relationship between discrimination and corruption.

The study investigates the interplay between discrimination and corruption through a series of case studies authored by those exposed to discrimination or those working with them. Each study examines how discriminatory corruption affects a different group exposed to discrimination in a different part of the world, with examples ranging from the experiences of gay men in Russia to ethnic minorities in Kenya, and from the treatment of indigenous communities in Guatemala to observant Muslims in Uzbekistan.

Through a year-long research project undertaken in collaboration with grassroots activists and international experts, we found compelling evidence that discrimination enables and fuels corruption, creating a vicious cycle that deepens inequality in four distinct ways:

  • Discrimination can result in greater exposure to corruption. In Russia and Nigeria, for example, laws, policies and practices which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation create a permissive environment for the entrapment and extortion of LGBTQI+ people.
  • Certain forms of corruption are inherently discriminatory. In Madagascar, systematic discrimination against women and girls has given rise to gendered forms of corruption, including sexual extortion in the police force and public medical sector.
  • Discrimination can mean that corruption has a disproportionate impact on certain groups. An example from Papua New Guinea shows how corruption in the land sector deprives young people of opportunities to fully participate in political and economic life.
  • Discrimination presents barriers to challenging corruption, while corruption can obstruct victims of discrimination from accessing justice. In Guatemala, discrimination against the Xinka indigenous people has thwarted their attempts to challenge corrupt land deals, while in the UK, corruption has prevented instances of discriminatory violence from being adequately investigated and sanctioned.

Our findings show that governments and others need to take immediate action to address discriminatory corruption. We call on governments, international bodies and civil society organisations to recognise the links between discrimination and corruption and take immediate, targeted and effective actions to tackle them jointly.

At the governmental level, states must adopt, implement and enforce comprehensive anti-corruption and anti-discrimination legal frameworks. Second, they must take targeted measures to address the specific phenomena of discriminatory corruption: 

  • Develop inclusive, safe and confidential reporting mechanisms that are sensitive to the specific needs of groups and individuals at risk of discrimination
  • Collect and monitor disaggregated data on the participation of marginalised groups
  • Consult with those exposed to discrimination as they articulate their experiences of corruption and propose solutions
  • Raise awareness and sensitise the public
  • Conduct training and build the capacity of public bodies to understand and tackle discriminatory corruption

While states are the ultimate duty-bearer under international law, civil society, regional and international organisations can and should contribute to understanding and tackling the problems arising from discriminatory corruption. We urge civil society to come together to pool resources, identify common problems and solutions, and enable collaborative research and advocacy on this underexplored phenomenon. 

At the international and regional level, the United Nations and regional intergovernmental bodies should play a significant role in tackling discriminatory corruption. We recommend increased collaboration, knowledge sharing and reciprocal training between anti-corruption and anti-discrimination bodies. One of the specific measures we propose is the establishment of a Special Rapporteur focused on discriminatory corruption under the UN Human Rights Council.

Discrimination and corruption are deeply entangled. To fight corruption, we must achieve a world free from discrimination. And to end discrimination, we must root out corrupt practices which cause or entrench inequality.