Corruption began life as a moral and corporeal concept and has evolved into a political, legal and economic phenomenon. This report explores corruption primarily as a challenge to business ethics and to the pursuit of corporate virtue. But it is impossible to do so without placing it in a political, social and cultural context. Only by understanding the causes and symptoms of the disease can we hope to control corruption, even if we may not be able to eradicate something so multifaceted and deeply rooted.

This is the final installment of four special reports on business ethics that Knowledge at Wharton has produced in collaboration with AKO Foundation. The first was on corporate governance, the second on moral philosophy and the third on business for peace. The topics were chosen, in part, to show the inter-relationships among these themes as companies try to navigate the ethical challenges of the modern world. A strong structure of corporate governance is needed to ensure business organizations operate sustainably. A good understanding of moral philosophy is a critical part of doing business ethically. A company that behaves with integrity can play a crucial role in stabilizing areas of conflict. And finally, businesses that fully understand the risks of operating in corrupt countries will be more resilient and, quite possibly, more profitable than those that do not. Even if there was no financial profit to be gained, behaving at all times with integrity is the right thing for companies to do.

Knowledge at Wharton thanks AKO Foundation for its support in publishing this series. Founded by Nicolai Tangen in 2013, the AKO Foundation is funded in part by the profit from AKO Capital, one of the leading European investment funds. Since its inception, the AKO Foundation has been funded with more than $50 million to support projects that improve education or promote the arts.