It's probably fair to say that Swedes don't think very much about corruption. It's quite simply not a problem.
“Corruption basically does not exist in Scandinavia,” claims John Andersen, a Danish explorer who has spent his life travelling the world, journeying from Greenland to Siberia to South America to Sudan and more. “It’s one of the only places in the world that doesn’t struggle with corruption, and it’s because we are small societies that trust each other.”
In Andersen’s opinion, the lack of corruption is thanks to the Scandinavian nations’ model of social democracy. The deep-rooted social welfare system means everyone contributes and no one tries to take more than their fair share.
“Some 200 years ago in Denmark, most people were farmers. The same thing in Norway and Sweden,” Andersen tells us. “And then people started building education centres for people out on the countryside, places where everyone could get together, get information, sing, or just gather in the dark winters.”
A since of community was quite literally built, and everyone wanted to contribute.
“They created a society where everyone put all their milk into a common factory to make cheese and butter for everyone,” Andersen says. “And this social consciousness is a very important foundation for what we have today.”
But even in Sweden there are problems. Just a couple of weeks ago it was revealed that multinational Swedish company Ericsson paid millions of kronor to the then-president of Costa Rica while competing for a major telecom contract in the Central American country – and the company has been dealing with corruption allegations in the US and Greece as well.
And Sweden together with Finland has been in yet another scandal. Swedish-Finnish firm TeliaSonera – 37 per cent owned by the Swedish state – is facing allegations that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure business, and the company has had to pull out of business in parts of Asia.
And yet Sweden and Finland still come out at the top of the list as relatively “clean” countries. Because, unfortunately, corruption is everywhere. Research from Transparency International shows that half of all OECD countries are violating their international obligations to crack down on bribery by their companies abroad.
But things could be much, much worse. According to Transparency International, more than 6 billion people live in countries with a serious corruption problem.
And for many of them, the consequences aren't having a global brand name shamed or losing a bit of business. The consequences could be child labour, terrorism, violent conflict, human trafficking, poor education, or environmental destruction.
Five of the 10 most corrupt countries also happen to rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world.
“Put simply,” the website states, “public sector corruption is about so much more than missing money. It's about people's lives.”
That’s exactly why you – and everyone – should care about International Anti-Corruption Day, whether living in Sweden (number 3, one of the least corrupt) or Sudan (number 165, one of the most corrupt). Where is your country on the list – and what can you do?
The United Nations created International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003 as part of the UN Convention Against Corruption, and the day is observed every December 9th.
The goal of the day is primarily awareness, pointing out to each and everyone that corruption is an unacceptable problem – not simply a way of life – and that there are things you can do to help fight it.
Yesterday the 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) opened in Panama City, gathering world leaders and activists to discuss the issues. The location may seem ironic given the Panama Papers incident earlier this year, but the location was selected before that scandal broke – and now the conference is using the Panama Papers of a prime example of what not to do, and how media can participate in the war against corruption.
— Transparency Int'l (@anticorruption) December 1, 2016
Journalists play a crucial role in outing corruption, and the Panama Papers themselves lead to more than 4,500 stories being published around the world. Many journalist have received personal threats after publishing – but they continue to fight back.
But what can you do?
Plenty. You could have an event, and meet up with other NFGL members or students on campus to discuss corruption and how to tackle it.
You could spread the word on social media or at school.
You could think about any issues or hints of corruption that you have experienced personally, at home or abroad, and report it.
You could contact Transparency International’s Stockholm branch (or a chapter in your home country) and see if there is anything you can do to help from Sweden – or perhaps do an internship.
Or simply be aware. That’s the first step. And together all those steps could make many miles.