Annual Report 2019: Protecting People and Planet

Global Witness CEO, Mike Davis

Message from our CEO: Mike Davis (May 2020)

I’m delighted to step up to the role of CEO after 17 years running Global Witness campaigns all over the world. I know first-hand the bravery and tenacity required of our staff and partners in confronting the corrupt. It is this, and the generous support of those who share our vision, that makes possible our cutting-edge investigations to expose the truth and create systemic change.

Most recently I have overseen the development of a new strategy, which sees us reorient our work towards tackling both the climate emergency and abuses of power - often driven by corruption - undermining civic freedoms around the world.

In 2019 we launched the first of our landmark reports on our refocused forests and fossil fuels campaigns, targeting the financing of climate-wrecking industries. Key facts we uncovered include:

Meanwhile, we shone a spotlight on how criminalisation - in addition to the violence we have long documented - is increasingly being used by governments to silence land and environmental defenders who stand up to destructive industries.

We also secured a major new law in the EU that will help protect both people and planet. The result of 5 years’ hard campaigning, it requires investors to disclose human rights and environmental impacts of projects, and put in place policies and plans to prevent harms. You can read our global impacts in full below.

In the face of a global pandemic and recession, this work is even more pressing.

As I write this Global Witness staff are, with people worldwide, operating in the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 crisis. We have gone from face-to-face to virtual advocacy and events, paused fieldwork but stepped up data investigations, and found new ways to tell our stories digitally.

Our revised strategic focus on civic freedom is more important than ever. When countries went into lockdown, some took advantage of the shrinking of civic space and protections to silence environmental activists, while the powerful called loudly for bailouts to benefit them above the greater good. Alongside allies, we spoke out against both these threats.

The need for fit-for-purpose laws to regulate online disinformation and the risks of state surveillance via apps and other technologies became clearer than ever. We have quickly ramped up our burgeoning campaign to tackle digital threats to democracy.

Through the recovery, rebuild and beyond we’ll push for corporations to take human rights and environmental harms as seriously as other risks, so global supply chains no longer deliver profit and prosperity for some and harm and destruction for the most vulnerable.

Alongside this, we will draw on our expertise in countries like Myanmar and Democratic Republic of Congo to strengthen natural resource governance and anti-corruption norms, working towards our long-term goal of a new global standard.

We will work with allies towards a global transition away from fossil fuels to clean and sustainable energy sources.

The postponed COP26 climate summit will remain a key moment to galvanise action on forests critical to climate regulation and biodiversity; to shine a light on the climate credentials of the UK government as Summit president, especially on fossil fuels; and to protect land and environment defenders on the frontline of the struggle for climate justice.

The world has had a wake up call - there can be no more business as usual.

Global Witness founders Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch and Simon Taylor
© Courtesy of Skoll Foundation

Message from our Founders: Charmian Gooch, Patrick Alley and Simon Taylor

We founded Global Witness 25 years ago to focus on the links between environmental and human rights abuses, with our first campaign exposing the timber trade funding the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Our pioneering work to expose human rights abuses and corruption linked to natural resources continues to bear fruit today. In December the US sanctioned two individuals linked to Cambodia’s timber trade, one featured in a 2018 Global Witness report, under the Global Magnitsky Act.

Another of our longest-running campaigns is for transparency and accountability in the oil industry, one of the most corrupt sectors on the planet. Last year, the landmark corruption trial continued in Milan of oil giants Shell and Eni, whose deal for Nigeria’s OPL245 oil block we began investigating in 2012. In court, Shell’s expert witnesses were put on the spot over findings from our investigation Take the Future, which exposed tax breaks worth almost $6bn in the highly unusual 2011 deal for Nigeria's oil.

For over a decade, Global Witness has highlighted how ill-gotten gains are laundered, often via shell companies and luxury property. Last year, we exposed more apparent wrongdoing including:

We also achieved systemic change through our advocacy:

  • In June, the British crown dependencies - Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man - pledged to legislate to introduce public registers by 2023, bringing the real people behind anonymously-owned companies incorporated in these tax havens out of the shadows.

  • In December, the US House of Representatives voted through the Corporate Transparency Act, requiring company ownership transparency so that criminals and the corrupt can no longer operate in secrecy in the US. Following ten years of our advocacy and investigations, it is the first time a bill of its kind has passed the House.

  • Also in December, the newly-elected UK government announced it would include the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill (aka ‘the property register’) in its legislative programme. This is an issue we've been campaigning on for five years, fighting to keep it on the government's agenda when Brexit threatened to move all other issues aside.

Finally, 2019 saw Global Witness continued to innovate and expand our investigative techniques including:

  • Publishing our first investigation into the world of cryptocurrencies, focussing on a Russian Bitcoin exchange which was shut down by the US authorities and the web of UK and offshore shell companies behind it in Do You Know Alexander Vinnik?

  • Using open source intelligence techniques to verify leaked documents which exposed the workings of the secret financial network behind the RSF, Sudan’s powerful militia who are accused of massacring pro-democracy protesters.

Global impacts

After years campaigning for the EU to tackle deforestation associated with its imports and investments, we welcomed a new European Commission communication - endorsed by EU governments - which opened the door to regulation to tackle deforestation in EU supply chains.
Sébastien Thibault/Global Witness
Staff from our offices around the world joined the youth climate strikers on the streets as part of the global strike for climate on 20 September.
Global Witness
We revealed how a company fronted by the Chief Executive of the UK’s Conservative Party was set to pay £50 million to seal a deal between the government of Guinea and a mining firm that has engaged in high-level bribery there.
Bloomberg/Getty Images
In April, following our report revealing widespread and systematic illegal logging in Peru, the authorities announced they would restore the independence of its weakened forest crimes agency OSINFOR.
After we revealed in A Congolese State Affair parts I and II how the children of Republic of Congo’s President apparently stole over $70 million from state coffers, a coalition of Congolese NGOs filed a complaint with the country's Public Prosecutor to investigate the facts revealed in our investigations - bringing justice closer.
After we complained to the UK’s advertising regulator about its claims that gas is low carbon, Equinor - one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies - was forced to retract its claim.

More ways we exposed the truth and achieved systemic change through our investigation, advocacy and communications - by teams in the EU, UK, China and on the ground globally - in 2019.

  • China - As China revised its Forest Law, we highlighted the illegal logging and deforestation risks of its ten biggest suppliers to show how China could show global leadership on the issue of illegal timber.

  • Brazil - With Brazil’s development bank set to sell shares in global beef giants JBS and Marfrig, we co-signed an open letter to would-be investors warning of the risk of exposure to Amazon deforestation.

  • Global - Our co-founder Simon Taylor was elected to the board of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, where he is helping to shape and monitor the process across 52 countries worldwide.

  • Global - We trained civil society activists across three continents to use our data handbook to hold governments and industries to account for extractives industry revenues.

  • Indonesia - Our investigations into the dangers of investing in Indonesian coal generated widespread exposure, prompting a response by the Finance Minister. It was reportedly followed by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission examining the sales records of 51 companies.

  • Philippines - In September, we revealed in Defending the Philippines how President Duterte’s broken promises are leaving activists at the mercy of business at all costs. The Philippines was the country with the most killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018.

  • Senegal - As secret payments by BP and its partners in Senegal for an offshore oil block were revealed by the BBC’s flagship Panorama programme, we called on US and UK law enforcement to investigate.

  • Sudan - Soon after we published our December investigation exposing how Sudan’s powerful RSF militia had captured large parts of the gold market, it was announced that the RSF would return the lucrative Jebal Amer gold mines to civilian control.

  • UK - The UK’s Serious Fraud Office announced it would investigate London-listed commodities trader Glencore - following nearly a decade of Global Witness probes into its business dealings in Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • UK - In June, we published new analysis showing how tens of thousands of leaseholders were at the mercy of unscrupulous freeholders hiding behind anonymous companies in what one MP called ‘legalised extortion’.

  • UK - Our evidence to Parliament’s Export Finance Inquiry contributed to a cross-party recommendation to rule out financing by the UK taxpayer of overseas fossil fuel projects by 2021.

  • US - In January we exposed how a senior official at the Department of the Interior received up to $2.1 million from the oil companies that stood to benefit from her work to reorganise the agency - in The Real Comb Over.

  • US - We co-hosted an event in Washington, D.C. bringing together land and environmental defenders from around the world to highlight what the US government must do to support and protect defenders.

  • US - We exposed yet another potential conflict of interest in the Trump administration in Setting the Record Straight, as we showed Trump's nominee for Secretary of Interior may have misled Congress about his prior lobbying for Soviet-born oligarch Blavatnik.

  • US - We hosted an event on the Hill in March on how extractive industry transparency helps protect US national security and combat corruption as part of efforts to build support Section for 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act.

  • US/Peru - A company we exposed for exporting illegal timber from Peru, WCA, was banned from exporting to the US by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which sent a strong signal to other exporters.

Income and expenditure statement

Income by source


By campaign

The above summarised financial statements are extracted from the full statutory directors’ annual report and financial statements which were approved by the directors and signed on their behalf on 28 April 2020.

These summarised financial statements may not contain sufficient information to gain a complete understanding of the financial affairs of Global Witness. See the full statutory directors’ report, financial statements and auditor’s report.

Thank you to all of our supporters

Global Witness is a non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our supporters and partners to continue our tireless investigations, exposés and advocacy. Without your support, the victories we have struck against conflict finance, corruption, human rights abuses and environmental destruction would never have been achieved.

In coming years, we will continue to challenge corruption in the global economic and political system. We will ensure governments act in the best interests of their people rather than powerful corporations and fight against new digital threats to our democracies. We will step up our work to protect our global climate and environment for future generations, while safeguarding people’s rights to their land and livelihoods.

If you’d like further information or to discuss how you can support our campaigns further, you can contact us at [email protected]. To make a gift today please visit:


  • The Adessium Foundation

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  • Arcadia Fund - a charitable trust of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing

  • Arcus Foundation

  • Arnhold Foundation

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  • Brook Foundation

  • CHARISMA Stiftung für nachhaltige Entwicklung

  • Cultures of Resistance Foundation

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland

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  • Dutch Postcode Lottery

  • Embassy of Sweden in DRC

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  • Seattle Foundation

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  • Taylour Foundation

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  • Mark Stephens CBE (Chair)

  • Patrick Alley

  • Chinmayi Arun (appointed 5 December 2019)

  • Gabrielle Darbyshire (appointed 13 February 2019)

  • Charmian Gooch

  • Mark Hannam (appointed 16 July 2019)

  • Fatima Hassan (appointed 1 November 2019)

  • Juana Kweitel

  • Stephen Peel (resigned 15 February 2019)

  • Simon Taylor

  • Jessica Tolkan (resigned 7 August 2019)


  • Bennett Freeman (Chair)

  • Aryeh Neier (Honorary Chair)

  • Anita Ramasastry

  • Arlene McCarthy OBE

  • Bandi Mbubi

  • Camille Massey

  • Edward Zwick

  • Ory Okolloh

  • Mabel Van Oranje

  • Misha Glenny

  • Silas Siakor

  • Victor Lopez Illescas


  • Christopher Mitchell (Chair)

  • Jeremy Bristow

  • Caroline Digby

  • Tony Stevenson


  • Stafford Matthews (President)

  • Patrick Alley

  • Bennett Freeman

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