Anti-corruption activist Charmian Gooch launched a new global campaign on Tuesday night to unmask shell corporations and lobby for legislation requiring more transparency, using a newly awarded $1 million TED Prize.
The Global Witness co-founder won the prestigious award to expand on her organization’s work to unmask shell companies used by dictators, criminals and terrorists for money laundering and to hide assets around the world.
“My wish is for us to know who owns and controls companies, so that they can no longer be used anonymously against the public good,” Gooch said while accepting the award and unveiling her wish. “Together, let’s ignite world opinion, change the law, and together launch a new era of openness in business.”
“This isn’t just a dry policy issue,” Gooch added. “This is a human issue which affects us all. This is about being on the right side of history.”
Shell companies are widely used around the globe by people and entities that want to conceal financial transactions or the true ownership of corporations. Activists have argued that widespread use of shell corporations have made it easier for dictators and criminals to hide money, evade taxes, or illegally transfer assets.
The U.S. is among the top countries where it’s easy to incorporate a company without providing the owners’ names, according to the World Bank. In one study, the World Bank found that, of 213 corruption cases that happened globally between 1980 and 2010, 70 percent of them relied on shell corporations for sheltering or transferring money.
“In 10 minutes of online shopping, you can create yourself an online company. Not only is it really, really easy and cheap, it’s totally anonymous. And you can keep adding layers, companies owned by companies,” Gooch said.
Gooch and other activists want companies to be required to publicly disclose and regularly update the beneficial owners of companies, since they are the people who ultimately control the assets.
Phi Beta Iota: Well-intentioned, this initiative allows governments to continue to mis-represent the public interest — it forces citizens to work against their governments instead of demanding that governments make shell companies illegal. The integrity of government is the center of gravity for transformative change.