SAN FRANCISCO: TED on Tuesday threw its weight behind a quest to unmask evil doers who use “shell companies” to hide illicit wealth or fund foul deeds.
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.
Global Witness co-founder Charmian Gooch enlisted the TED community with the revelation of a “wish” that accompanies a million-dollar prize awarded to the anti-corruption activist by the prestigious group known for technology titans, political leaders, celebrities and others with clout and resources.
“My wish is for us to know who owns and controls companies so they can no longer be used anonymously,” Gooch said during an interview at the gathering.
“Let’s launch a new era of openness in business. It sounds ambitious, but it is doable.”
Global Witness investigates and campaigns to bring about change for the better by exposing economic networks behind conflict, corruption
and environmental destruction.
TED curator Chris Anderson called Gooch a “hero” who “is coming to TED with a real powerful call to action.”
No laws in any countries require companies to list who their owners are and then make that information public, Gooch lamented.
Meanwhile, nefarious characters ranging from corrupt heads of state to drug lords can hide or move assets through anonymous shell companies in what Gooch referred to as “an epic scandal hidden in plain sight.”
Shell companies with hidden owners are used to sidestep government sanctions or plunder natural resources from poor communities, according to Global Witness.
Gooch said the British government is already on board with her goal, and that the European Parliament is tuning into the idea. The United States is the next big target for the campaign.
“People like to think of anonymous companies as these sunny offshore tax havens,” Gooch said.
“Actually, the big problem is onshore in the US and the UK.”