Blog / Oct. 7, 2016

Why we have a long way to go on open company data

I've spent this week in Madrid attending a whole host of events around open data. The open data movement is one of the key driving forces behind the trend towards greater government and company transparency.

Global Witness has played a part in this movement by advocating for greater transparency around the real, beneficial owners of companies. It is important because anonymously owned companies are the getaway cars of choice for the criminal and corrupt. For more detail, see this excellent TED-Ed animation:


We've made some real progress, for example the UK is now publishing company beneficial ownership information as open data.

However, an article from Reuters has highlighted how far we really have to go. Some statistics jumped out at us from this article:

  • There are an estimated 235 countries, territories or jurisdictions where companies can be incorporated;
  • Only 58% of these jurisdictions have online corporate registries where some basic company information can be accessed;
  • Only 45% of all jurisdictions provide director information online and only 36% disclose shareholders. 
  • Even worse, a lot of the information that is available, is hidden behind paywalls or other measures, which makes it hard to access the information and impossible to compare company information with other data sets. 

Our colleagues at AccessInfo Europe found that only one European country provided free, public access to the entire corporate register. As Helen Darbishire, the Executive Director of AccessInfo put it: 

European governments, by putting these obstacles to accessing company register data, are complicit in blocking investigative journalists in their work uncovering criminal activities, money laundering, and tax evasion. - Helen Darbishire

It's time for governments to open up and allow greater access to corporate information to help the fight against corruption, money laundering and tax dodging.  

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