Yet few words were dedicated to fighting graft at the World Economic Forum of business and political decision-makers last week. Instead, new financial rules, the U.S. stimulus plan and trade barriers dominated speeches and small talk.
"Corruption is a real cancer," Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general, said in a private meeting Saturday. "It deprives the poor from benefiting from some business activities or assistance," and drains enormous amounts of money from the legitimate economy, he added.
Annan urged rich world companies to pressure each other more to clean up — by posting internal audits on their Web sites, for example.
"There's a tendency to say that corruption is in the third world. But it takes two to tango," he said. "The receiver is often from the south and the briber is often from the north."
Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, warned that governments and businesses should be especially vigilant against corruption amid the crisis.
"It becomes particularly relevant at a time when countries are scraping the bottom of the barrel to make ends meet," he said, suggesting that governments made poorer by recession are more likely to demand bribes for lucrative contracts.
He also urged a crackdown on tax havens — something a few political leaders have demanded amid the crisis but that barely came up at Davos. Host country Switzerland is itself often seen as a tax haven.