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Corporate 'Engine of Corruption' Destroying Global 'Public Good', says TED Prize Winner

'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'

Jacob Chamberlain

The identity of the owners of anonymous companies who work behind closed doors against the "public good" should no longer be kept private, Charmian Gooch, co-founder of Global Witness, said Tuesday as she received the TED Prize at the TED2014 conference.

Anonymous companies, explained Gooch, are extremely cheap and easy to set up and are completely legal. In places like Delaware, for instance, it can be done online through a simple form and a small fee. The owner's name is easy to hide or at least keep out of public knowledge. And like Russian dolls, company owners hide multiple companies layered within one "shell" company structure, which can stretch across multiple countries.

"Each layer adds anonymity," said Gooch, and makes it more difficult for law enforcement and others to find out who the real owner is. "This truly is a scandal of epic proportions hidden in plain sight."

“It’s easy to think that corruption happens somewhere over there, carried out by a bunch of greedy despots,” said Gooch in her previous TED talk in 2013, which led to the award. “The reality is that the engine of corruption exists far beyond the shores of countries like Equatorial Guinea or Nigeria or Turkmenistan. This engine is driven by our international banking system, by the problem of anonymous shell companies, by the secrecy that we have afforded big oil, gas and mining operations and, most of all, by the failure of our politicians to back up their rhetoric.”

"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 Tuesday. "Let's ignite world opinion, change the law, and together launch a new era of openness in business."

Gooch proposes the development of a public registry of corporate ownership, which would expose tax evasion, conflict minerals exploitation and political corruption among other public harms committed by anonymous corporations. We need to "enact laws to create public registries which list the true owners of companies, and that can be accessed by all – with no loopholes," said Gooch.

Gooch used the stage to announce a global campaign with Global Witness to abolish anonymous companies.

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