Press Release / June 18, 2013

The beginning of the end of corporate secrecy? G8 strikes a blow against corruption – but still more to do

Global Witness is collating the action plans as they are published. Read our summaries of the plans. 

Read more on Global Witness' reaction to the G8

The G8 has started a rollback in corporate secrecy by beginning the process of eradicating anonymous shell companies that enable corruption, tax evasion and state looting, said Global Witness today. However, the majority of G8 countries have not yet matched the ambitions of the UK and the US to propose legislation to create registers of who ultimately owns companies. 

“Anonymous shell companies are the getaway car for crime and corruption: the G8 haven’t taken away the keys yet, but they are starting to let down the tires,” said Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns at Global Witness. “For the first time the world’s leading economies have made progress towards ending corporate ownership secrecy.” 

David Cameron has said that his preference would be for company ownership registers to be open to the public. This would be cheap, have minimal impact on businesses and would deliver the most benefits to developing countries. 

The US has said it are committed to registries, which is a very positive given Delware’s popularity as a place to set up anonymous companies. “Obama now needs to work hard with Congress to turn this welcome commitment into legislation with teeth,” said Hayman.  

The G8 has agreed a set of principles to tackle the problem of hidden company ownership and each country will publish a national action plan. Global Witness understands that action plans from France, Italy and Canada, will be published in the very near future and that they will contain a commitment to consult over having a central registry. 

“We hope that France, Italy and Canada will agree to create registries of beneficial ownership, and go a step further, by making these public,” said Hayman. 

“Ultimately, every single country – and their offshore tax havens – must commit to making company ownership a matter of public record. Only then will dirty money and hidden identities be properly exposed to daylight, helping to curb the corruption that keeps poor countries poor. In absence of making registries public there should be an explicit commitment for developing countries to access them, as they are the ones that suffer most from corporate secrecy.” 

Russia, Japan and Germany are due to publish action plans before the end of the year. It is particularly disappointing that Germany has failed to show leadership and is refusing to even consider the idea of public registries, especially given that such registries would help tackle tax evasion, which is a major domestic concern. 

Today’s announcement represents an overall success for the UK Presidency of the G8 which took a risk by putting this issue on the agenda and pressuring both the UK’s tax havens and G8 countries to address abuses of corporate secrecy. The UK has come a long way from a year ago when it was blocking progress on this issue and has put major reforms on the table. 

“The Prime Minister has said that his ambition is to make information about who owns and controls companies public and we’ll be holding him to that. Other countries must follow suit. We will be watching.” 



Notes to editors:

1. The United States G-8 Action Plan for Transparency of Company Ownership and Control is based on Senator Levin and Grassley’s bipartisan legislation that is expected to be reintroduced later this year. 

2. The World Bank identifies corruption as one of the biggest obstacles to eliminating poverty. According to Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel, Africa loses twice as much in illicit financial outflows as it receives in international aid. Global Witness has documented ( how corrupt politicians, tax evaders, terrorists and drug traffickers all use shell companies to move dirty money and hide their identities. The US, the UK and its overseas territories top the list of destinations where secret companies are set up.

3. The UK's action plan is here: The US' action plan is here: