My wish: To launch a new era of openness in business

 
00:12

I’ve come here today to talk to you about a problem. It’s a very simple yet devastating problem, one that spans the globe and is affecting all of us. The problem is anonymous companies. It sounds like a really dry and technical thing, doesn’t it? But anonymous companies are making it difficult and sometimes impossible to find out the actual human beings responsible sometimes for really terrible crimes. So, why am I here talking to all of you? Well, I guess I am a lifelong troublemaker and when my parents taught my twin brother and I to question authority, I don’t think they knew where it might lead. (Laughter) And, they probably really regretted it during my stroppy teenage years when, predictably, I questioned their authority a lot. And a lot of my school teachers didn’t appreciate it much either. You see, since the age of about five I’ve always asked the question, but why? But why does the Earth go around the sun? But why is blood red? But why do I have to go to school? But why do I have to respect the teachers and authority? And little did I realize that this question would become the basis of everything I would do. And so it was in my twenties, a long time ago, that one rainy Sunday afternoon in North London I was sitting with Simon Taylor and Patrick Alley and we were busy stuffing envelopes for a mail out in the office of the campaign group where we worked at the time. And as usual, we were talking about the world’s problems. And in particular, we were talking about the civil war in Cambodia. And we had talked about that many, many times before. But then suddenly we stopped and looked at each other and said, but why don’t we try and change this? And from that slightly crazy question, over two decades and many campaigns later, including alerting the world to the problem of blood diamonds funding war, from that crazy question, Global Witness is now an 80-strong team of campaigners, investigators, journalists and lawyers. And we’re all driven by the same belief, that change really is possible.

02:48

So, what exactly does Global Witness do? We investigate, we report, to uncover the people really responsible for funding conflict — for stealing millions from citizens around the world, also known as state looting, and for destroying the environment. And then we campaign hard to change the system itself. And we’re doing this because so many of the countries rich in natural resources like oil or diamonds or timber are home to some of the poorest and most dispossessed people on the planet. And much of this injustice is made possible by currently accepted business practices. And one of these is anonymous companies. Now we’ve come up against anonymous companies in lots of our investigations, like in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we exposed how secretive deals involving anonymous companies had deprived the citizens of one of the poorest countries on the planet of well over a billion dollars. That’s twice the country’s health and education budget combined. Or in Liberia, where an international predatory logging company used front companies as it attempted to grab a really huge chunk of Liberia’s unique forests. Or political corruption in Sarawak, Malaysia, which has led to the destruction of much of its forests. Well, that uses anonymous companies too. We secretly filmed some of the family of the former chief minister and a lawyer as they told our undercover investigator exactly how these dubious deals are done using such companies. And the awful thing is, there are so many other examples out there from all walks of life. This truly is a scandal of epic proportions hidden in plain sight. Whether it’s the ruthless Mexican drugs cartel, the Zetas, who use anonymous companies to launder profits while their drugs-related violence is tearing communities apart across the Americas. Or the anonymous company, which bought up Americans’ tax debts, piled on the legal fees and then gave homeowners a choice: Pay up or lose your home. Imagine being threatened with losing your home sometimes over a debt of just a few hundred dollars, and not being able to find out who you were really up against.

07:58

Okay, so let’s say it’s America, and let’s say it’s Delaware, and now you can simply go online and find yourself a company service provider. These are the companies that can set your one up for you, and remember, it’s all legal, routine business practice. So, here’s one, but there are plenty of others to choose from. And having made your choice, you then pick what type of company you want and then fill in a contact, name and address. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be your name. It can be your lawyer’s or your service provider’s, and it’s not for the public record anyway. And then you add the owner of the company. Now this is the key part, and again it doesn’t have to be you, because you can get creative, because there is a whole universe out there of nominees to choose from. And nominees are the people that you can legally pay to be your company’s owner. And if you don’t want to involve anyone else, it doesn’t even have to be an actual human being. It could be another company. And then finally, give your company a name add a few more details and make your payment. And then the service provider will take a few hours or more to process it. But there you are, in 10 minutes of online shopping you can create yourself an anonymous company. And not only is it easy, really, really easy and cheap, it’s totally legal too. But the fun doesn’t have to end there, maybe you want to be even more anonymous. Well, that’s no problem either. You can simply keep adding layers, companies owned by companies. You can have hundreds of layers with hundreds of companies spread across lots of different countries, like a giant web, each layer adds anonymity. Each layer makes it more difficult for law enforcement and others to find out who the real owner is. But whose interests is this all serving? It might be in the interests of the company or a particular individual, but what about all of us, the public? There hasn’t even been a global conversation yet about whether it’s okay to misuse companies in this way. And what does it all mean for us?

10:21

Well, an example that really haunts me is one I came across recently. And it’s that of a horrific fire in a nightclub in Buenos Aires about a decade ago. It was the night before New Year’s Eve. Three thousand very happy revelers, many of them teenagers, were crammed into a space meant for 1,000. And then tragedy struck, a fire broke out plastic decorations were melting from the ceiling and toxic smoke filled the club. So people tried to escape only to find that some of the fire doors had been chained shut. Over 200 people died. Seven hundred were injured trying to get out. And as the victims’ families and the city and the country reeled in shock, investigators tried to find out who was responsible. And as they looked for the owners of the club, they found instead anonymous companies, and confusion surrounded the identities of those involved with the companies. Now ultimately, a range of people were charged and some went to jail. But this was an awful tragedy, and it shouldn’t have been so difficult just to try and find out who was responsible for those deaths. Because in an age when there is so much information out there in the open, why should this crucial information about company ownership stay hidden away? Why should tax evaders, corrupt government officials, arms traders and more, be able to hide their identities from us, the public? Why should this secrecy be such an accepted business practice? Anonymous companies might be the norm right now but it wasn’t always this way. Companies were created to give people a chance to innovate and not have to put everything on the line. Companies were created to limit financial risk, they were never intended to be used as a moral shield. Companies were never intended to be anonymous, and they don’t have to be.

12:31

And so I come to my wish. 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. Together let’s ignite world opinion, change the law, and launch a new era of openness in business. So what might this look like? Well, imagine if you could go online and look up the real owner of a company. Imagine if this data were open and free, accessible across borders for citizens and businesses and law enforcement alike. Imagine what a game changer that would be. So how are we going to do this? Well, there is only one way. Together, we have to change the law globally to create public registries which list the true owners of companies and can be accessed by all with no loopholes. And yes, this is ambitious, but there is momentum on this issue, and over the years I have seen the sheer power of momentum, and it’s just starting on this issue. There is such an opportunity right now. And the TED community of creative and innovative thinkers and doers across all of society could make the crucial difference. You really can make this change happen. Now, a simple starting point is the address behind me for a Facebook page that you can join now to support the campaign and spread the word. It’s going to be a springboard for our global campaigning. And the techies among you, you could really help us create a prototype public registry to demonstrate what a powerful tool this could be. Campaign groups from around the world have come together to work on this issue. The U.K. government is already on board; it supports these public registries. And just last week, the European Parliament came on board with a vote 600 to 30 in favor of public registries. That is momentum. (Applause) But it’s early days. America still needs to come on board, as do so many other countries. And to succeed we will all together need to help and push our politicians, because without that, real far-reaching, world-shifting change just isn’t going to happen. Because this isn’t just about changing the law, this is about starting a conversation about what it’s okay for companies to do, and in what ways is it acceptable to use company structures. This isn’t just a dry policy issue. This is a human issue which affects us all. This is about being on the right side of history. Global citizens, innovators, business leaders, individuals, we need you. Together, let’s kickstart this global movement. Let’s just do it, let’s end anonymous companies. Thank you. (Applause)

00:12

我今天来到这里 想和你们谈一个问题。 这是个非常简单却又严重的问题, 这个问题遍及全球 并影响着我们所有人。 这个问题就是 匿名公司。 它听起来非常枯燥且专业性强, 不是吗? 但是匿名公司正在制造一个难题 甚至有时是不可能解决的难题 那就是找出 真正应担负责任的人类 当他们犯了非常可怕的罪行的时候。 那我为什么跟你们说这些呢? 我想我终身就是个麻烦制造者 在我父母教育我和我的双胞胎哥哥 要质疑权威的时候, 我猜他们当时并不知道 这会带来怎样的后果。 (笑声) 他们可能真的后悔了 你可以猜得到, 在我难以被驾驭的青春期, 我对他们的权威提出了很多的质疑。 对我的很多老师也一样, 他们并没有很欣赏这点。 从我5岁起 我就总是问为什么? 为什么地球绕着太阳转? 为什么血是红色的? (演讲背景字幕:可是,为什么?) 为什么我必须要上学啊? 为什么我必须尊重老师, 和他们的权威? 我当时并未意识到 这个问题后来成了 我做任何事的出发点。 于是就这样 在我二十几岁的时候, 那是很久以前 一个阴雨的礼拜天下午, 在伦敦北部 我跟西蒙.泰勒 还有帕特里克.艾力坐在一起 在活动组织办公室 忙着填塞信封准备寄出。 我们当时在那工作。 和往常一样,我们谈论着世界问题。 特别的是,我们当时谈论的 是柬埔寨的内战。 我们以前已经讨论过这个许多次了。 但突然我们都停了下来 看着对方 然后说:为什么我们不试着去改变它呢? 从那个有点疯狂的问题开始, 二十多年来 在许多次公众宣传之后, 包括警醒世人 关于血钻战争的问题, 从那个疯狂的问题开始, 环球目击者这个组织, 现在已经拥有80个强劲的团队 其中包含了活动家、 观察者、记者和律师。 我们怀着同样的信念, 相信改变是完全可能的。

02:48

那环球目击者究竟是做什么的呢? 我们开展调查, 我们进行报道, 揭露应该承担责任的罪魁祸首 他们为战争提供资金 从全球民众手中盗取大量财物, 这种行为也叫做国家掠夺, 他们也破坏环境。 我们为了改变系统本身 而很努力得开展活动。 我们之所以这么做 是因为太多国家 拥有充沛的自然资源 譬如说石油、钻石或者林木 却是这个星球上一些最贫穷和 最一无所有人们的家园。 这种不公平 之所以变为可能 是依靠如今还被允许的商业行为。 其中一项就是匿名公司。 我们已经对匿名公司发起了挑战 得助于我们许多的调查, 譬如在刚果民主共和国, 我们揭露了秘密交易 如何通过匿名公司 来剥削公民 这是世界上最贫穷国家之一 而其金额远超过十亿美元。 那是这个国家公共和教育经费 总和的两倍。 比如在利比里亚, 一个国际掠夺性伐木公司 使用幌子公司打掩护 来谋取利比里亚大量独有的森林资源 又比如在马来西亚的砂拉越, 政治腐败导致很多林木遭到破坏。 当然,在那里也利用了匿名公司。 我们偷偷拍摄了 一位前任部长的一些家庭成员 和一位律师 他们向我们的卧底调查员透露了 可疑交易究竟是如何 通过这样的公司达成的。 而且糟糕的是, 有太多这样的例子 存在于各行各界。 这确实是一个非常重要的丑闻, 而且就隐藏于公众眼皮之下。 不论是不是无情的墨西哥贩毒团伙, 泽塔斯, 他们利用匿名公司来洗钱 与此同时他们的毒品暴力 正使美国各社区分崩离析。 又比如一些匿名公司, 通过收购美国的税收债务, 由此堆积相关的法律费用, 再借此去威胁原有的房屋主人: 把钱都付了,不然你将无家可归。 想象一下你被威胁无家可归 有时仅仅只是因为 一笔几百美元的债务, 而且你还不知道 你所面对的敌人究竟是谁。

07:58

好,那就让我们拿美国来举例, 谈谈特拉华州, 你现在可以直接上网 给自己找一个公司服务代理。 有这样的公司可以为你成立公司。 记住,这可都是合法的, 常规的商业行为。 那么,这有一个选择, 还有很多的其他类似的公司任你选择。 等你做好了决定, 你就选择你想要的公司形式 然后填写一个联系人,名字和地址。 不用担心, 你不一定要写自己的名字。 你可以写你的律师的, 或者你的服务代理商的, 反正这不是为了公共记录。 然后你要加上公司的所有者。 这是关键的一部分, 同样的,这不需要是你, 因为你可以发挥想象, 因为可选的人比比皆是 供你选择。 这些人是你可以用合法的方式 支付费用从而充当你公司拥有人的。 如果你不想把其他人搅进来, 它甚至不需要是个真正的人, 它可以是另一个公司, 最后, 给你的公司取个名字 加上一些具体信息,然后付费, 服务代理商会花上几个小时 或更长的时间来做处理。 然而你就这么做到了, 在这个10分钟的网上购物过程中 你可以给自己开办一个匿名公司。 这不仅简单, 非常简单和廉价, 也是完全是合法的。 但这个乐趣还没有完, 可能你想更加隐秘。 这也没问题。 你可以简单地一直制造幌子, 公司所拥有的公司, 你可以有一百层的幌子 几百个公司 跨越很多不同的国家, 好像一个庞大的网络, 每一层幌子添加一层保密。 每一层都是一个难题 这令法规执行者和其他人 找出真正的所有者的任务更加困难。 可是这一切都在为谁服务呢? 这可能对一个公司 或者某个人有利, 可是对于我们大家,公众来说呢? 目前还没有一个全球性对话 来讨论是否可以接受 这种滥用公司的行为。 这对我们来说又意味着什么呢?

10:21

有一个案例一直困扰着我, 是我最近接触到的一个案例。 那是一场可怕的火灾 发生在布宜諾斯艾利斯的一个夜店 (注:阿根廷首都) 大约在十年前。 那是在新年夜前一天的晚上。 三千多名非常开心的狂欢者们, 大多数是青少年, 挤在一个仅能容纳一千人的地方。 然后悲剧降临了, 火灾发生了 天花板上的塑料装潢开始融化 毒气充满了整个夜店。 然后人们开始逃命 却发现一些防火门 被锁了起来。 两百多人失去了生命。 七百多人在逃命的过程中受伤。 受害人的家人, 整个城市,整个国家 被震惊了, 调查人员试图找出该负责的人。 当他们寻找这个夜店的拥有人时, 他们却找到了一些匿名公司, 和有关人员的身份谜团所带来的困惑 这些人有参与这些匿名公司。 最终,一群人被定了罪 其中一些进了监狱, 这是多么可怕的一个悲剧啊, 而且不应该这么困难吧 仅仅是想要弄清谁应该承担负责 为死难者们负责。 因为在这样一个时代 有太多信息 公布于众, 为什么这样关键的信息 关系到公司的所有权 要保持隐藏呢? 为什么逃税者,政府贪官, 军火商,等等 能够避开我们大众, 隐藏他们的身份呢? 为什么这个秘密 是被允许的商业行为? 匿名公司 或许现在是很平常的事, 但它不是一直都是这样的。 我们建立公司 是为了给人们创新的机会 而不需要承担失败的全部风险。 我们建立公司是为了限制财务风险, 它们从来就不是用来作为道德盾牌的。 我们从来就没有期望公司是匿名的, 而且它们没有必要是匿名的。

12:31

所以我的愿望 就是让大家知道 谁拥有和控制公司 这样公司从此不再能以匿名使用 而违反公共利益。 让我们一起来点亮全球观点, 改变法律, 开启商业公开化的新时代。 但这个新时代可能会是怎样的呢? 好,我们想象如果你可以上网 查看一个公司的真正拥有者。 想象这个信息是公开和免费的, 超越国度, 公民和企业 还有法律执行者等都可以查阅。 想象这所带来的变化会有多大。 那我们接下来应该怎么做呢? 这只有一条路。 齐心协力,我们可以 在世界各地推动法律改革 建立公共名册, 明细公司的真正拥有者 供所有人查阅 没有任何漏洞。 是的,这是个雄心勃勃的计划, 但在这个问题上我们有推动力, 这些年来我见识过 推动力的绝对威力, 而且在这个问题上刚起步, 现在是个绝佳机会。 而且TED社区 创意与革新的思想家们和行动者们 分布于社会各个角落, 你们能够做出关键的贡献。 你们真的可以做到。 现在,一个简单的出发点 就是我身后的这个地址 你可以加入一个脸书网页 来支持这个活动,广而告之。 这将是我们在全球 开展活动的一个跳板。 你们身边的科技人士, 可以帮助我们建立一个 公共注册的样板 来展示这个工具有多大的威力。 全球的活动团队 聚到一起,为解决这个问题而共同努力。 英国政府已经加入其中; 支持公共名册。 就在上周, 欧洲议会也加入进来 以六百对三十的压倒性投票数 支持公共名册。 这就是推动力。 (掌声) 然而这只是个开端。 美国也应该加入进来, 还有很多其他的国家也一样。 为了成功,我们必须 齐心协力帮助和推动我们的政治家们, 因为如果没有这个, 真正长期的,颠覆世界的改变 是不会发生的。 因为这不仅仅是改变法律, 这是开始一个对话, 关系到公司可以做什么, 并以何种方式来运用 公司结构是可以接受的, 这不是一个简单枯燥的政策问题, 这是一个关系到我们所有人的 人类问题。 这关系到我们是否 站在历史正确的一边。 全球公民们,创新者们, 商业领袖们,人们, 我们需要你们。 让我们一起开动这个全球活动。 让我们即刻去行动吧, 让我们结束匿名公司。 谢谢你。 (掌声)

From: My wish: To launch a new era of openness in business

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