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International Anti-Corruption Day 2020: Leading economists, trade unions, diverse civil society groups call on UN General Assembly to end anonymous companies

A group comprised of leading economists, trade unions and civil society organisations tackling issues from human rights, to poverty, to business integrity, have come together for International Anti-Corruption Day to call for an end to the abuse of anonymous companies.

In an appeal to national leaders preparing for the first-ever United Nations General Assembly Special Session against Corruption (UNGASS) scheduled for June 2021, the signatories call for the high-level forum to commit to making central, public beneficial ownership registers a global standard.

Full letter and list of signatories

“Anonymous companies have long been known as a cover for financial crime,” said Maíra Martini, Research and Policy Expert on Corrupt Money Flows at Transparency International. “The diversity of stakeholders signing the letter illustrates the growing consensus that shell companies undermine social justice and collective security. Removing the veil of secrecy will not only help authorities fight cross-border corruption and other crimes, but also facilitate due diligence by legitimate businesses,” continued Martini.

The problems caused by the lack of information on companies’ real owners have been in the international spotlight for over a decade and especially since the Panama Papers in 2016. While there has been some progress in ending their abuse, Transparency International’s research shows that has been much too slow. As long as some jurisdictions allow anonymous companies to conduct transactions, they will continue to be used for cross-border corruption and other crimes.

“A central, public register of companies and their ultimate beneficial owners – in addition to information on legal ownership and directors – is the most effective and practical way to record such information and facilitate timely access for all stakeholders,” reads the letter signed by 22 organisations as well as the economists Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, said: “With the United States set to join its global peers in taking action against anonymous companies through the Corporate Transparency Act, there is growing momentum and a clear consensus that transparency in company ownership serves the common good. It also improves the environment for businesses themselves.

“But a consensus needs to translate into meaningful action. The United Nations General Assembly has a unique opportunity through the Special Session against Corruption in 2021 to help end the abuse of corporate secrecy. Doing so would have a major impact on the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, by ending the vehicle of choice for the corrupt to hide the theft and misappropriation of desperately needed public funds and resources,” continued Ferreira.

Preparations for the UNGASS 2021 are currently underway with country representatives negotiating the text of a political declaration to be presented in June 2021.

The letter is open for endorsement by businesses, civil society, academia and other stakeholders until 5 January 2020, ahead of the formal submission to UNGASS 2021.

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