World on a String
The world is getting smaller in many ways, including for fact finders looking to get information about companies.
Sometimes, the company across the street will file more information about itself halfway around the world than it will in its own jurisdiction. With a computer or a good person on the ground far away, the information can be yours in a matter of minutes or hours.
Most people know the way this usually works: a company from a country with rotten disclosure wants to raise money in the U.S., and so is subject to the rigorous reporting requirements by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Foreign companies can be forced to disclose executive pay packages, and that can sometimes give you the name of a private company the executive gets his pay sent to. Great stuff, and only available because the government forces the information out of the company.
But what about the other direction? Companies from the U.S. or other jurisdictions that have great disclosure, which nonetheless turn over more information overseas than they might at home?
Two cases in point:
Last month the EU unveiled legislation to require “transparency” from “extractive companies,” which means companies that dig or pump stuff out of the ground or chop down trees. Even private companies that ordinarily would have no major reporting requirements to non-shareholders would have to disclose payments they made country-by-country.
A time-honored gift to U.S. investigators is Companies House in the United Kingdom. Private companies from anywhere in the world that want a presence in the U.K. have to register. You get names of directors, addresses, shareholder information and financials.
So the next time you have to look up information on a company, ask not only where the company is incorporated. Ask also: “where does it do business?”