Gender and beneficial ownership transparency
Publishing sex-disaggregated beneficial ownership information
Rules about the access to BO data differ from country to country. In some countries, personal information about beneficial owners is available to government authorities only. For example, Brazil, India, and Kenya hold BO data in government-maintained registers unavailable to the public. Other countries, such as Armenia, Denmark, and the UK, have government-maintained registries accessible to the public.
An increasing number of countries are implementing central and publicly accessible BO registers. Making registers public can contribute to a range of policy aims by ensuring access for all potential user groups, including civil society, journalists, and law enforcement from other jurisdictions. However, the potential negative effects of publishing personal data should also be understood and mitigated whilst ensuring data usability.
Where BO information is publicly accessible, implicit information about sex may already be published. For example, some jurisdictions, such as the UK, collect and publish titles of beneficial owners – Mr, Miss, Ms, and Mrs – although this is an optional field. Additionally, first names are often published from which sex can in many cases be inferred. These approaches may not be sufficiently reliable depending on the purpose.
Governments considering the explicit publication of sex data of beneficial owners should identify a purpose and legal basis. They should also assess whether the publication of individuals’ sex data creates potential risks; whether these risks can be mitigated; and whether the publication of data to achieve specific aims is proportional to this risk.
Purpose and legal basis
There may be instances where the explicit publication of sex-disaggregated BO data is useful for an identified policy aim. For example, the publication of sex-disaggregated BO data may enable actors beyond government to assess the gendered-aspects of policymaking by enabling gender-sensitive research. It could also facilitate the monitoring and accountability of gender equality policies.
Implementers should consider these aims and whether making sex-disaggregated data available without linking it to further personally identifying data is sufficient to achieve them. For example, if the purpose is to enable research on wealth distribution or women’s company ownership, publishing summary statistics that use sex as a variable of analysis could be sufficient. Otherwise, governments may choose to provide datasets that are anonymised or pseudonymised to prevent individual identification. However, if the purpose is to enable oversight and accountability of a preferential procurement policy, this would require the publication of personal data along with sex data (for example the names and years of birth of beneficial owners, to allow civil society actors to evaluate specific government contracts).
If governments deem it necessary to publish sex-disaggregated BO data, a legal basis should be established explaining the purpose for publishing sex data and how the data will be processed in accordance with relevant privacy and data protection legislation. For example, if sex data is considered sensitive data, consent may need to be sought.
Governments should weigh the potential benefit of publishing sex-disaggregated BO data against potential risks. This is particularly relevant given that concerns of increased risks to personal harm are commonly voiced with respect to the publication of personal data as part of BOT. For example, it may be possible for the publication of sex data to reveal an individual having changed biological sex, gender identity, or both. Establishing what risks may arise from publication of data may require consultations with stakeholders to identify potential harms and concerns regarding the processing and publication of sex-disaggregated BO data.
Potential risks can be mitigated to a certain degree. For example, governments can allow individuals to apply not to have some or any details published in cases where the publication of sex-disaggregated BO data could cause disproportionate harm to the individual. In its BOT legislation, the UK has taken into account risks inherent to the publication of personal information after receiving reports that the publication of certain details of beneficial owners led to harassment and stalking. Protection measures are now in place that draw on the existing framework of the Protection from Harassment Act.
Implementers could also consider only making sex data of beneficial owners available to those who can demonstrate a legitimate interest, apply for a complete data set, and justify their use of data. For example, Nigeria allows free and public access to basic company data, but offers users the option to apply and pay for a comprehensive company status report of companies that includes data such as information about officers and directors, shareholding, and articles of incorporation. This could be combined with sanctions for the misuse of data.
 “The Open Ownership map: Worldwide commitments and action”, Open Ownership.
 Tymon Kiepe, “Making central beneficial ownership registers public”, Open Ownership, 25 May 2021, https://www.openownership.org/en/publications/making-central-beneficial-ownership-registers-public/.
 For example, by implementing layered access and a protection regime. See: Kiepe, “Making central beneficial ownership registers public”.
 No examples of serious harm from the publication of BO data in open registers have thus far been documented. See: Open Ownership, 4, https://www.openownership.org/en/publications/privacy-or-public-interest-making-the-case-for-public-information-on-company-ownership/.
 “Protection from Harassment Act 1997”, UK Legislation, 21 March 1997, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40.
 Free information is available on https://search.cac.gov.ng/home and includes full names and correspondence addresses for persons of significant control (beneficial owner). A “Status Report” is available for NGN 5,000 (approximately USD 12) as listed on https://www.cac.gov.ng/schedule-of-fees/. The report includes the gender of the persons of significant control. Please note that Nigeria is still in the process of implementing a central BO register.