Land Corruption

Land corruption jeopardizes conservation outcomes, climate progress, and human rights by enabling insecure land tenure, land grabbing, and other negative behaviors.

Strengthened collaboration between experts in the anti-corruption and conservation communities is essential to bridge knowledge gaps and advance solutions.

About the Land Corruption Working Group

Meetings of the Land Corruption Working Group are chaired by staff from Transparency International (TI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and are open to any professional in the Countering Environmental Crime Practitioners Forum who seeks to target land corruption.

Sessions are held under the Chatham House rule and convene virtually every other month. Updates, including member-recommended case studies and resources, are shared in the dedicated space on Basel LEARN open to Working Group members only.

To join this Working Group, join the Practitioners Forum and select the Working Group when submitting the form. Existing members can update their profile.

What is land corruption?

Land corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain in land administration and management (Transparency International). Transparency International estimates that across the globe, one in five people has paid a bribe to access land services.

Effective and transparent land management and secure land rights are crucial to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), protecting biodiversity, food security, water management, sustainable cities, and addressing climate change.

What does land corruption look like?

Corrupt practices in land administration and management that result in negative social and environmental outcomes can include (among others):

  • Corruption at all stages of the land acquisition process, including payments for preferential treatment in concession allocations
  • Bribery in land administration services
  • Fraud in land records
  • Bribery of judges to influence legal proceedings
  • Suppression land and environmental defenders and whistle-blowers
  • Money laundering and/or
  • Use of front companies and straw people.

How does land corruption undermine conservation and human rights?

Land corruption can undermine human rights and natural resource futures in many ways. For example:

  • The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International strongly correlates with insecurity of tenure. Land corruption can undermine fair and transparent land administration, so that even people with legal rights can fear eviction. It can also undermine adaptation and mitigation strategies, since it affects the ability of people and communities to make changes to and invest in the land. Fraud and corruption may result in double allocation of the same land parcels by land registration offices, leading to land conflict and insecurity.
  • Land deals can be vulnerable to corruption at various stages of their implementation, which may result in a failure to implement environmental and social assessments and to respect to right to consultation of local communities.
  • If special interests influence the process of land-use planning/zoning to determine where different activities, such as mining or logging, should occur, this may result in evictions of traditional or indigenous peoples who are living on and using the land, and/or environmental degradation.
  • If fraud occurs in carbon offsetting or carbon crediting programs, this may undermine community land rights and intended environmental benefits.

Associated risks include:

  • Risks in financial flows for climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Risks related to the green energy transition or biofuels as minerals and large tracts of land are sought after.
  • Risks to the safety of land and environmental defenders.

What needs to change

Avenues for addressing land corruption include:

  • Legal and policy reform
  • Institutional reform and organizational integrity
  • Participation of affected communities in decision making
  • Grievance mechanisms
  • Protection for environmental and land defenders and whistle-blowers
  • Responsible investment practices
  • Taking a gender and inclusion lens
  • Open data and transparency

Members of this working group have discussed the following opportunities for future cooperation:

  • Good practice-sharing
  • Shared advocacy and participation in regional and global events
  • Evidence generation
  • Collaborative global campaigns around national or regional cases
  • Partnerships on national approaches (collaborative risk assessment; proposal development; project implementation)
  • Peer-to-peer interactions and/or mentoring.

Recommended reading and tools

Basics for anti-corruption, land governance and conservation practitioners

  • Land Corruption Topic Guide (Transparency International, 2018): This topic guide provides a broad introduction to the issue of land corruption, its impact and some of the areas that are particularly vulnerable to corrupt practices, as well as proposed anticorruption approaches. It is a useful primer for anti-corruption, land governance and conservation practitioners.
  • Open Governance and Communities and Inclusion Resource Pages (Targeting Natural Resource Corruption, 2023): Information and tools for practitioners to advance programming via open governance (transparency, accountability, participation) and conservation or anti-corruption approaches that work with or affect local people. Featured guidance and tools help practitioners to design and implement appropriate responses in their operating contexts.
  • How corruption is enabling land grabbing and exacerbating the effects of climate change: This session at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in 2022 was coordinated by Transparency International.

Case studies: Learning from recent interventions

  • Combatting Land Corruption in Africa: Good Practice Examples (Transparency International, 2019): Good practices shared by national Transparency International chapters working to address land corruption across Africa are a strong point of reference for conservation practitioners. Each practice is described in detail (including the key steps for implementation and factors for achieving success) in a format that helps to guide others working against corruption.
  • The Role of Open Data in Fighting Land Corruption (GIZ, 2021): This report takes stock of more than a decade of interventions pioneering the use of open data to curb land corruption, and explores their impact, their achievements, the existing barriers and limitations, as well as potential ways to overcome them.

Gender lens

  • Women, Land and Corruption: Resources for Practitioners and Policy-Makers (Transparency International, 2018): The gendered evidence presented in this resource illustrates how women are affected by land corruption differently from men, and how responses can be tailored to women’s needs to address gender-based inequalities over land. This offers important background for taking a gender lens when considering how to reduce corruption’s impact on conservation outcomes.