Anti-Corruption Summit: London 2016. Photo: Cabinet Office (under creative commons)
Corruption: Ending impunity & upholding the rule of law
This week governments put themselves in the spotlight at the UK Anti-Corruption Conference, where they will be judged as to whether they have the courage to tackle corruption. This requires no half measures. It requires swift action to end impunity and uphold the rule of law.
In the wake of public outrage over the Panama Papers both working people and responsible business owners expect governments to take strong measures against corruption, including implementing beneficial ownership transparency and transparency in contracting arrangements.
Anonymous shell companies are used to facilitate money laundering, fraud, terrorist financing, grand corruption, lawsuits by patent trolls, funding foreign elections, manipulating tenders and public procurement, and enabling criminal enterprises. Anonymous companies are all too often part of grand corruption cases and are used as dead ends for law enforcement when trying to bring criminal networks, terrorist financiers and corrupt officials to justice.
Transparency in company ownership can help both prevent corruption and end the role of anonymous companies in enabling impunity for wrongdoers.
The good news is that there are companies that are as appalled by these acts of corruption, tax evasion and corporate greed as citizens and close to one hundred countries have committed to beneficial ownership transparency – to knowing who owns or controls companies and other legal entities.
It is heartening to work with companies in the B Team who are committed to leading by example in publishing more details of their company structures in open data. But companies committed to transparency and the the rule of law require governments to act so that they are not commercially disadvantaged by illegal operations of others.
Good governance and good government means having nothing to hide.
Corruption diverts funds meant for sustainable development, undermining delivery of quality social services and infrastructure.
Governments purchase goods and services from the private sector at a rate of around $9.5 trillion a day. Public procurement is used to deliver public infrastructure, social services, and to support innovation. It is also a key site of corruption, robbing citizens of national resources, services and infrastructure they deserve, and often putting them in harms way through dodgy building standards or fake medicine.
The lack of transparency extends to the massive hidden workforce on which the supply chain model of trade is currently based, where a hidden workforce of 94% fuels fifty of the world’s largest multinationals. Obscurity of contracting and employment arrangements allows labour exploitation, rights violations even modern slavery with impunity.
Responsible business will gain the trust of workers and consumers if that declare they want none of this.
The corruption of business extends to institutions and the complicity of global bodies like FIFA in bribery and money laundering which amongst other travesties resulted in propping up the enslavement of workers in Qatar to deliver the necessary infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.
Unions, business, civil society and policy makers have to collaborate to tackle corruption together.
The Panama Papers were just the tip of the iceberg, showing what we already knew: that anonymous companies are being used to evade sanctions, and hide corrupt monies. By destroying a key vehicle of corruption, beneficial ownership transparency will diminish resource losses, stymie crime and terrorist financing, and strengthen valuable business.
A synchronized system of beneficial ownership transparency is the first step to eliminate those who use shell companies to hide illicit or illegal activity.
The ITUC supports the creation of a Global Beneficial Ownership Register that will help to expose and end clandestine activities by anonymous companies which obscure true ownership.
We need to end impunity – it’s long overdue.
This blog is taken from Sharan’s speech at the Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by the British Prime Minister David Cameron on 12 May.