Hundreds of UK companies face tougher anti-corruption rules from next year under European efforts to shed more light on payments to governments by the oil, gas and mining sectors.
The extra disclosure requirements facing extractive industries, including forestry, are designed to reduce the risk of corruption surrounding the huge payments that such companies often make to governments in the form of licence fees, taxes or royaltie.
Jo Swinson, business minister, said the introduction of the rules from January would make the UK the first country to implement the reporting requirements, part of the EU’s accountancy directive, which was agreed last year.
Anti-corruption campaigners welcomed the step. “This will deter companies from making illicit payments and empower citizens in resource-rich countries to follow the money generated by natural resources and hold their governments to account for how these public revenues are used,” said Simon Taylor, director of campaign group Global Witness.
The UK is a substantial hub for oil, gas and mining companies, from the likes of BP and Rio Tinto to junior oil and metals explorers. About 250 companies may have to comply with the disclosure rules, the government said.
The rules cover all payments above a disclosure threshold of €100,000. Companies would have to file a report detailing all payments to Companies House within 11 months of their financial year end, meaning first disclosures would be expected in 2016.
Saying Britain was bringing in the disclosure rules before a deadline for doing so, Ms Swinson added that there were too many instances of assets from resource-rich countries not benefiting local people.
“These changes will result in greater transparency, helping build a stronger economy and ensuring people around the world have the information they need to hold their governments to account,” she said.
Tougher disclosure rules for resource companies were part of talks at last year’s summit of the G8 group of leading economies in Northern Ireland, when leaders also pushed for a tightening of corporate tax rules.
Mr Taylor of Global Witness said the UK had produced a “strong set of rules” that meant companies would have to report on a project by project basis in all countries where they operate.
Some companies have already stepped up disclosures. Rio Tinto last year said it paid $7.5bn in taxes around the world to national and local governments, including royalties and fees for operating permits and licences.