Inside Public Integrity

Published — July 11, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Impact grows for Center’s international focus


The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has this goal: to be the world’s best cross-border investigative reporting enterprise. ICIJ is an active global network of 160 reporters in more than 60 countries who collaborate on in-depth, multi-nation investigative projects.

We tackle tough international issues involving systemic global problems that call out for exposure. We seek to hold powerful people and institutions accountable. While we are not an advocacy group, we know that our work is seen by millions and used by media, NGOs and advocates worldwide to both illuminate issues and trigger action that can bring about solutions.

ICIJ is perhaps best known for our recent investigation into tax havens. Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze is the largest journalistic collaboration in history, involving more than 100 journalists working in excess of 50 countries. This ongoing project has already had more than 20,000 media citations worldwide.

For this offshore leaks project, ICIJ is analyzing some 2.5 million files of leaked data totaling more than 260 gigabytes, including corporate files, emails, account ledgers, and other records that show cash transfers, incorporation dates and links between individuals and companies. The leaked files illustrated how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.

But it’s hardly the first time that ICIJ’s work has had a measurable impact:

  • Island of the Windows and Mystery in the Fields exposed an undiagnosed malady that is killing tens of thousands of men working in sugar cane fields in Central America, Sri Lanka and India. They are dying of a chronic kidney disease, yet governments and the sugar industry have done little to respond. Because of ICIJ’s investigative reporting, the Costa Rican government launched a study into the causes of the disease and one of that country’s biggest sugar producers said it is revamping its worker health and safety policies.
  • Skin and Bones, an investigation into the unregulated, billion-dollar global trade in human tissue, produced an immediate response from the World Health Organization. WHO pushed ahead with plans to create a coding system to track human tissue traded for transplants and ingredients in drugs to improve safety and prevent illegal collection. In addition, the British medical journal The Lancet warned about the dangers of “profiteering” from the international trade in human tissue and the lack of sufficient regulation worldwide – echoing the findings of ICIJ’s investigation. There were numerous criminal charges filed in the Ukraine and tissue collection in that country was suspended.
  • Dangers in the Dust: Exporting an Epidemic was a global ICIJ investigation into the rising use of asbestos in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China, India and other countries. ICIJ revealed that asbestos producing countries Russia and Canada have spent nearly $100 million to promote asbestos use globally, even though it is a known carcinogen and may cause up to 10 million deaths by 2030—largely in the developing world. The series prompted the Canadian parliament to debate this issue and reconsider its pro-asbestos global lobbying efforts.
  • Smoke Screen, in which a dozen ICIJ reporters followed Big Tobacco’s entry into the markets of emerging economies, revealed the methods employed to increase smoking in the developing world. This latest investigation built on our earlier work about the illicit transport of tobacco, which represented one of the first-ever investigations into the participation of major tobacco companies in the global smuggling of tobacco products. As a result of our probe, the major tobacco companies pledged not to participate in these smuggling and tax-avoidance schemes as part of their international trade.

Founded in 1997, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. Backed by the Center and its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world.

Globalization and development have placed extraordinary pressures on human societies, posing unprecedented threats from polluting industries, transnational crime networks, rogue states, and the actions of powerful figures in business and government. The recent success of ICIJ is a testament to its vital role in the international arena at a time when the need for global investigative journalism has never been greater.

Until next week,


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