Madrid, 1 April 2015 – Transparency campaigners Access Info Europe have welcomed the passage by the British parliament on Friday 27 March 2015 of a law by which the UK becomes the first country in the world with legislation guaranteeing collection and publication of information about the real beneficial owners of companies.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 aims to crack down on the abuse of “shell” companies by requiring that all company directors be real people as opposed to corporations (which some exceptions). There will also be a register of individuals who exercise significant control over a company.

The UK government had already announced that as of the second quarter of 2015 it will implement its G20, G8 and Open Government Partnership commitments by making all information stored in electronic format by Companies House, the UK company register, freely accessible to all members of the public.

“This is a significant step towards corporate transparency,” commented Pam Bartlett Quintanilla, Campaigner at Access Info Europe. “The UK could become one of the only countries to turn its company register into an open government dataset.”

Research carried out by Access Info Europe in cooperation with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting project in 30 European countries found that in not one is the complete full company register, including the names of owners, available in a downloadable format free of charge.

Access Info Europe’s research found that accessing company register databases, even those that do not include information about the beneficial owners of companies, is complex, time-consuming and often costly for citizens, journalists and researchers.

Research by the World Bank has demonstrated that shell companies were used in 70% of corruption cases in an effort to avoid accountability. Such findings demonstrate the urgent need to ensure transparency of corporate ownership structures globally.

“Complex, transnational, company ownership structures are used to hide those responsible for tax evasion, money laundering, organised crime, environmental pollution and human rights abuses,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, “Only full transparency can bring this to an end.”

Access Info Europe is calling on other EU Member States to follow the UK’s lead, and in particular, to implement the new EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive in such a way that permits for public access to beneficial ownership information as well as free and unrestricted access to national company register databases.