BHP Billiton commits to public beneficial ownership but here’s how they could do more
“This Report discloses the payments we have made during FY2016 on a country-by-country and project-by-project basis. BHP Billiton is a leader in transparency and this Report includes additional information disclosed on a voluntary basis…. We also support the introduction of public disclosure requirements relating to beneficial ownership. These are issues that require leadership and a changed approach. ”
This week BHP Billiton became one of the first multinational extractive companies to support public beneficial ownership requirements in its latest transparency report. The report includes payments made on a project-by-project basis as well as payments made to governments. This has been a key ask from extractive sector transparency NGOs. It also includes disclosure on taxes paid in different countries, including secrecy jurisdictions. Critically, the 2016 report also includes a policy statement supporting “the introduction of public disclosure requirements relating to beneficial ownership (the ultimate holder of the benefits of ownership of the company)”.
We commend BHP Billiton for taking the step to publish this data and to commit to publishing beneficial ownership. One of the arguments used by governments against public beneficial ownership data is that it would be too much of a burden on large businesses. Last year, B Team and OpenCorporates worked with Natura and Unilever to publish published more of their own company structures and ownership information. BHP Billiton’s bold statement of believing in the ethos of this transparency and pledging to do it, shows true leadership. To change trends in the industry, there is a role of lightbearers like BHP Billiton, Natura and Unilever to pave the way for other large corporations.
At OpenCorporates, we would ask them to consider going a step further:
(a) publish their corporate structure as open data
Knowing the corporate structure of a transnational corporation is critical for understanding it — whether you’re an investor, a government, or an NGO understanding whether it truly is the good corporate citizen it says it is — in short it helps establish integrity in business. Yet, astonishingly in the year 2016, this is still not available as open data, but as low-quality scanned images with confusing and ambiguous information. This is an extract from BHP Billiton’s statutory listing of subsidiaries
Given the company’s moves towards meaningful transparency, it would be great to see them addressing this critical information too.
(b) publishing corporate identifiers alongside company names.
We’ve moved a long way from the days when a name of a company was sufficient to identify it — company names are frequently changed and reused, and these days the importance of clear, unique, non-proprietary corporate identifiers such as ‘company numbers’ (identifiers issued by the company register) or the LEI should be used to unambiguously identify subsidiaries.
c) follow on from its support for beneficial ownership by requiring its suppliers to publish their beneficial ownership, giving confidence not just to the public and investors, but to BHP Billiton itself.
The forthcoming Global Beneficial Ownership Register by OpenCorporates, Global Witness, Open Contracting Partnership, The B Team, The Web Foundation, and Transparency International will be the ideal vehicle for the collection and publication of this data.
Just like we need to make sure that corporate data registers are not just public, but available as open data — we also need to make sure company self disclosures are the same. Only as open data will we be able to use the data to create a hostile environment for corruption and other criminal activity. It’s riskier to lie in public when the eyes of the world are on you. Whether it is businesses or government doing due diligence, tax offices looking for financial crime or NGOs and journalists conducting investigations — the usefulness of this data extends beyond law enforcement.
Given the benefits of open data and public beneficial ownership data for business and civil society, we hope more businesses follow the suit of BHP Billiton, and hope that they follow their strong start with these next steps.