social justice

Making progress on hidden company ownership

Of the many things I’ve written about on the blog here, one of the issues that’s seen the most progress in the last few years has been tax evasion. It was an invisible problem five or six years ago, and those campaigning about tax havens and the like were off in the margins. With the financial crisis and the rise of austerity politics, the idea that people ought to pay their taxes and pull their weight has made a comeback, regardless of political affiliation.

There’s been a lot of talk of course, and action has been a little slower. The G8 have all promised to work on the problem in various ways, and this year committed to greater transparency around who owns companies. Shell companies are an important part of tax evasion strategy – ‘Tax dodgers, child traffickers, corrupt politicians and other money launderers all rely on the use of anonymous shell companies to hide their identity,” said campaigner Rosie Sharpe of Global Witness.  “To tackle this sort of financial crime, the names of the beneficial owners of companies need to be made public for all to see.”

Since the G8 have promised to address this specific aspect of tax evasion, it’s now up to us to hold our governments to their word. A new scorecard from Christian Aid and Global Witness might help, detailing which G8 countries have made steps in the right direction, and which ones are lagging behind.


Britain and France come out best of the G8 so far. Last month Britain became the first country to announce a central registry of company ownership. It isn’t done yet, but the announcement earns Britain that green light in this particular review. France gets theirs for similar pledges, although they haven’t actually formally announced it. Russia and Japan are not considering any such measures. Considering their G8 agreements, that’s not really good enough.

“What’s needed is clear” says the Company Ownership report. “the names of the ultimate, ‘beneficial’ owners of companies, trusts and other corporate vehicles need to be made public. It is only by putting this information in the public domain that tax inspectors and others will be able to easily access this information; that businesses will be able to know who they are doing business with; and that citizens will be able to know who owns the companies that provide their services and extract their resources.”
For more details, download the Company Ownership report from Christian Aid and Global Witness.

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