A Beneficial Ownership Register for the world: The first steps

On the day that thousands of documents were released showing how criminals and corrupt politicians are using anonymous Panamanian companies, we are pleased to announce that OpenCorporates will be working with Global Witness, Open Contracting Partnership, The B Team, The Web Foundation, and Transparency International to create a global public beneficial ownership register to help end anonymous companies, and the corruption and criminal activity enabled by them.

As the world’s largest open database of the companies in the world, OpenCorporates has been a vocal advocate for more public data on companies and have been an active part of the civil society led coalitions working around the world to bring beneficial ownership transparency. There has been a radical transformation in understanding the importance of corporate transparency, especially around who ultimately controls companies and and benefits from them  (the “beneficial owners”). We believe that making this information public is critical to tackle corruption, and increasingly far-sighted governments such as the UK, law enforcement and socially responsible businesses agree.

UK, Norway and Netherlands have all announced public registries containing beneficial ownership information. Even where progress is slow on the national level, sector specific projects such as the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, local governments such as Sao Paulo, or development bodies such as the World Bank are taking charge and adopting  public beneficial ownership requirements. Bit by bit, the world is coming to see that transparency around corporate control and ownership is not just essential to tackle corruption, but a foundation for good business.

An open and global register will accelerate this, combining public beneficial ownership data, and providing a platform for companies to  self-disclose this crucial information. Among the benefits:

  • Make it easier for companies to know who they are doing business with, reducing risk, and making it safer and easier to do business with new clients and suppliers.
    Give investors better insight into the companies they are considering investing in, providing a better investment climate
  • Provide society with a better visibility of the activities of companies – from lobbying to public procurement,  licences to regulatory breaches.
  • It removes the technical barriers for collecting beneficial ownership information, acting as the beneficial ownership register in the ‘cloud’, usable by government bodies of all types, and from all jurisdictions, and reducing the burden on companies submitting information multiple times

The global open register will obviously develop over time, with the feedback of the key users (including civil society in the developing world) but we’ve already worked out many of the key features:

  • A free and easy-to-use website that allows search for companies and their owners around the world.
  • Cloud solution – offering governments and companies a platform for the collection beneficial ownership of companies – and in the process reducing burden for them, for the companies that have to submit the information, and making the information usable by all..
  • Founded on open legal entity data, using unique & non-proprietary identifiers.
  • Clearly operating in the public benefit, allowing the sometimes conflicting demands (public interest in publishing vs privacy) to be balanced.
  • Sustainability model which ensures that the above are maintained without requiring ongoing government subsidy.

You can read more about the register in this policy paper.

This is an exciting project, and one that holds great promise for helping combat corruption as well as establishing integrity for global business. While it’s still early days, we’ve created a steering committee, have outlined the key goals and features of the register and are working on an implementation plan.
To get involved in this important project, as a government, funder, multinational, or NGO, please drop us a line at hera@opencorporates.com.
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