A year ago the “Panama Papers” leak exposed the use of anonymous companies to avoid sanctions, move proceeds of corruption and crime, and facilitate other illicit financial schemes. The leak put a price on doing business through anonymous companies 400 public companies named in the leak had $135 billion wiped off their stock value. In the wake of the leak, many governments and companies committed to action in the face of the unacceptably high costs of anonymous companies to business and society.
A year on, we have moved a step closer to shining a light on who owns and controls companies with the creation of OpenOwnership, the first public, open data, global database of company ownership information. OpenOwnership provides public access to information on who owns 1.9 million companies in 24 countries, across all sectors including construction, legal, real estate and with a special focus on extractive industries.
Access to company ownership information is crucial for businesses and investors, enhancing their ability to manage risks, develop supply chains with integrity, and better allocate capital to worthwhile investments. EY’s 2016 Global Fraud survey found that 91% of senior executives believe it is important to know the ultimate beneficial ownership of the entities with whom they do business. We believe that this is common sense for any business or investor.
Without publicly available company ownership information it is costly and difficult to determine who owns and controls companies with whom we do business. This puts us at greater risk of fraud, failed investments, and being inadvertently connected to individuals with links to government officials and even terrorism financing.
Companies and investors are increasingly taking steps to improve company ownership transparency. Companies can now voluntarily disclose their ownership on OpenOwnership, demonstrating their leadership and their pride in owning a business. We encourage our suppliers and partners to make disclosures on OpenOwnership.
However, action by the private sector alone cannot fix this problem. We need governments to develop policies that enable transparency of beneficial ownership and easy, free, public access to that information in open data. Over 40 countries have made commitments since the Panama Papers to take action on company ownership transparency. In particular, a number of countries have committed to central, public registers including Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, and South Africa. We look forward to seeing their and many other jurisdictions make ownership information both transparent and accessible in open data.
The more countries that publish this information in open data, the easier it becomes for business and investors to do due diligence efficiently and effectively. OpenOwnership plays a role by aggregating open data information from multiple jurisdictions so that businesses can compare information and benefit from its scrutiny by government, law enforcement, civil society, academia and the press.
Trust in business and government has been eroded by corruption and rising inequality. Knowing who owns or controls companies and having public access to this information in open data is a critical step in rebuilding that trust and restoring pride in company ownership.
Oliver Baete, CEO, Allianz Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ex Finance Minister of Nigeria Bob Collymore, CEO, Safaricom Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO, Kering Group Dr Mo Ibrahim, Founder & Chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation Sharan Burrow, Secretary General, International Council of Trade Unions Arif Naqvi, Founder & CEO, The Abraaj Group