Defining and capturing data on the ownership and control of state-owned enterprises

Key concepts

SOEs play a critical part in the global economy [1] and have a unique potential to drive economic growth. SOEs in the extractive sector play an important role in the production and sale of natural resources and may, thereby, generate significant revenue for the state. [2] International bodies, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), stress that SOEs “should observe high standards of transparency” relating to information about how they are managed.

Not having visibility of how SOEs are owned and controlled would constitute a considerable weakness that could undermine the specific aims of beneficial ownership transparency reforms. Beneficial ownership registers are a logical solution for identifying and monitoring state ownership of companies.

The specific risks of opaque ownership and control of SOEs include: a lack of visibility of the transfer of assets between private and public sectors; the misuse of SOE resources; not understanding the impact of SOEs on the economy; and not understanding the impact of any cross-border activity undertaken by SOEs. [3]

These specific risks are addressed in Open Ownership’s definition of beneficial ownership:

“Beneficial ownership is a natural person’s right to some share or enjoyment of a [legal entity’s] income or assets (ownership) or the right to direct or influence [the entity’s] activities (control). Ownership and control can be exerted either directly or indirectly.” [4]

From this definition, it follows that the purpose of beneficial ownership disclosures is to establish which individuals are the beneficial owners of entities, where beneficial ownership can be exercised through ownership and/or control. States or state bodies, such as government ministries or agencies, often hold direct or indirect controlling interests in SOEs, in addition to ownership stakes like shareholdings. Beneficial ownership transparency requires an understanding of who the individuals are who exercise these controlling interests on behalf of the state. Because of this, it is recommended that government implementers place a strong emphasis on understanding how SOEs are controlled.

Of 347 SOE respondents, 42% reported that corrupt acts or other irregular practices transpired in their company during the last three years, according to a 2018 OECD survey. [5]

[1] Lord, J. (2021, 12 January), State-owned enterprises: a new frontier. Open Ownership. Retrieved from

[2] EITI (n.d.), State-owned enterprises. Retrieved from

[3] Lord, J. State-owned enterprises: a new frontier.

[4] Open Ownership (n.d.), Beneficial ownership glossary. Retrieved from

[5] OECD (2018), The risk of corruption in and around state-owned enterprises: What do we know? In State-Owned Enterprises and Corruption: What Are the Risks and What Can Be Done? Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from

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