This summer, OpenCorporates announced the creation of the OpenCorporates Trust, the entity that guarantees OpenCorporates’ mission, and ensures we always operate to open up company data for the public good.
Coming up first in a series of interviews with our trustees is Patrick Alley, co-founder and director of Global Witness, the world’s leading anti-corruption NGO.
Since co-founding Global Witness in 1993, Patrick has taken part in over fifty field investigations in South East Asia, Africa and Europe and in subsequent advocacy activities.
Tell us a little about your background, and why you support OpenCorporates
When Global Witness began 25 years ago there was a nascent understanding of link between environmental abuses and human rights abuses, particularly around natural resources relating to conflict and corruption.
Global Witness was the first organisation to recognise that nexus. At that time, our work was mainly on the ground; creating data by counting trucks crossing borders and documenting dirty deals.
I wish we’d started working on anonymous companies ten years earlier than we did. In 2008 we realised every corrupt deal needs a bank, and anonymously owned companies are the main vehicles to access them. This made OpenCorporates a natural partner – if an organisation can do what OpenCorporates has done to get this data off the ground, it’s a natural ally for Global Witness
What drew you to becoming an OpenCorporates trustee?
My initial reaction to being asked to join the board of trustees was that I’d love to, but I don’t have the time. But in this modern world of data it’s those with control of the most data who win; hence Amazon, Google, Facebook and the other behemoths of data gathering world.
The same is true for company data, and the likely course is that all corporate data will similarly be controlled by a monopoly. It’s vital that OpenCorporates is that organisation to ensure that data is available under an open licence. It’s a really great mission.
How does your experience at Global Witness inform this role?
From late 2014, I spent 4 years at Global Witness improving our own governance structure, expanding the board to include non-executives, and going back to our roots in campaigning.
After we came through all of that, I thought I do have something to offer to OpenCorporates, and although I’m not awash with time, there’s enough to make it possible.
What does a future without OpenCorporates look like?
I think that OpenCorporates is probably even more necessary than it was when it began. Corporate information should be open and available to those who want to access it. It’s critical for tackling corruption, criminality, subversion of our democratic systems, and building societies we’d like to live in.
How do we ensure access to company data is open to all?
We have to make transparency the norm. Global Witness started working with Transparency International on anonymous companies in the early stages of the Cameron era, and within 18 months a public registry of beneficial ownership was announced. In part, this was a result of the financial crisis and anger with the establishment. The train is rolling on this issue, but it’s far from assured, and there is push back.
We have to keep momentum going. We need better regulation in more parts of the world to ensure company registries are public. We need more naming and shaming to show how massive crimes are facilitated, and that law enforcement is bewildered, by anonymous companies. OpenCorporates is a leading organisation in this space, and has a critical role to play.