A guest post from Hera Hussain of Open Corporates.
When OpenCorporates attended the last International Open Data Conference, three years ago in DC, we were pretty much an outlier. Very few groups there were talking then about the potential for open data in in corporate transparency or for tackling the use of corporate entities for criminal or antisocial purposes
Since then we’ve had a number of significant steps:
- In open data we’ve had the G8 Open Data Charter, listing corporate registers as a core high-value dataset that should be made available as open data;
- Anti corruption NGOs such as Global Witness and Transparency International have begun to embrace and advocate for open data;
- With the help of the Open Company Data Index, an increasing number of countries are making their corporate registry data available as open data;
- The Open Contracting Partnership has launched, with open data a core part of it;
- The UK announced the creation of a public beneficial ownership register, accessible as open data;
- There’s been the rise of the Follow The Money movement.
But we need to do much better, and hold governments to their promises. Although the G8 members did sign the Open Data Charter only the UK and Canada have so far published their company registers as open data.
And while some NGOs are increasingly understanding why this is important, governments and intergovernmental organisations have been much slower to do so.
Yet when you look at the areas that civil society and governments (and even large corporations) are concerned about it’s striking that companies are at the heart of each of these issues:
- Corruption (particularly around government procurement, which not only costs governments and their people money, but also pollutes and reduces trust in government structures);
- Systemic Fraud (e.g. grant fraud, boiler room scams);
- Money Laundering;
- Organised Crime/Drug cartels;
- Stolen Assets (see the World Bank’s landmark Puppet Masters Report);
- Sanctions busting;
- Money in politics
All these now routinely use corporate entities as the primary vehicle for enabling them, and all are massively helped by the lack of free, open and complete corporate data.
Of course that’s why we think OpenCorporates is so important, and why it’s now a go-tool resource for journalists, NGOs, law-enforcement, tax officers, anti-corruption investigators, and even banks.
We’ve made real progress in the past three years (see our Impact Report just published) , massively increasing the number of companies in OpenCorporates, adding lots more data, and making a small but significant dent in the wall of opacity that everyone from money launderers to giant technology companies would like to hide behind.
But to really make a difference, it’s critical that all the strands are pulled together – after all that’s the central promise of open data – to allow us to use that data to find new insights and connections.
To help bridge many of these gaps, make these connections, OpenCorporates is organising or taking part in a number of events this week. At the unConference today, I will be organising a session today about beneficial ownership and what the use cases for this data looks like for civil society organisations around the world. On Wednesday morning, we’re organising a session called ‘Follow the (corporate) money”, looking at how what we need to connect the various parties – and data – together. Do come along, if you’re an NGO, work for government, an open data activist, or just interested in helping make company data more open and what could be done if it were.
During the main conference, our CEO Chris Taggart will also be on a couple of panels – including Why We Need Global Data Standards and on the Open Contracting Data Standard. Then on Saturday morning, we will be joining with IATI, Open Contracting, The Humanitarian Exchange Language Project to make progress on the issue of organisational identifiers.
Most of all we’ll be joining the conversation about the central role of companies and corporate data in the open data landscape – and invite you to join in that conversation with us too…