State of Open Corporate Data: Wins and Challenges Ahead

Sunlight Foundation: “For many people working to open data and reduce corruption, the past year could be summed up in two words: “Panama Papers.” The transcontinental investigation by a team from International Center of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) blew open the murky world of offshore company registration. It put corporate transparency high on the agenda of countries all around the world and helped lead to some notable advances in access to official company register data….

While most companies are created and operated for legitimate economic activity,  there is a small percentage that aren’t. Entities involved in corruption, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion frequently use such companies as vehicles for their criminal activity. “The Idiot’s Guide to Money Laundering from Global Witness” shows how easy it is to use layer after layer of shell companies to hide the identity of the person who controls and benefits from the activities of the network. The World Bank’s “Puppet Masters” report found that over 70% of grand corruption cases, in fact, involved the use of offshore vehicles.

For years, OpenCorporates has advocated for company information to be in the public domain as open data, so it is usable and comparable.  It was the public reaction to Panama Papers, however, that made it clear that due diligence requires global data sets and beneficial registries are key for integrity and progress.

The call for accountability and action was clear from the aftermath of the leak. ICIJ, the journalists involved and advocates have called for tougher action on prosecutions and more transparency measures: open corporate registers and beneficial ownership registers. A series of workshops organized by the B20 showed that business also needed public beneficial ownership registers….

Last year the UK became the first country in the world to collect and publish who controls and benefits from companies in a structured format, and as open data. Just a few days later, we were able to add the information in OpenCorporates. The UK data, therefore, is one of a kind, and has been highly anticipated by transparency skeptics and advocates advocates alike. So fa,r things are looking good. 15 other countries have committed to having a public beneficial ownership register including Nigeria, Afghanistan, Germany, Indonesia, New Zealand and Norway. Denmark has announced its first public beneficial ownership data will be published in June 2017. It’s likely to be open data.

This progress isn’t limited to beneficial ownership. It is also being seen in the opening up of corporate registers . These are what OpenCorporates calls “core company data”. In 2016, more countries started releasing company register as open data, including Japan, with over 4.4 million companies, IsraelVirginiaSloveniaTexas, Singapore and Bulgaria. We’ve also had a great start to 2017 , with France publishing their central company database as open data on January 5th.

As more states have embracing open data, the USA jumped from average score of 19/100 to 30/100. Singapore rose from 0 to 20. The Slovak Republic from 20 to 40. Bulgaria wet from 35 to 90.  Japan rose from 0 to 70 — the biggest increase of the year….(More)”