March 1, 2004
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

Transparency systems have emerged in recent years as a mainstream regulatory tool, an important development in social policy. Transparency systems, as we define them, are government mandates that require corporations or other organizations to provide the public with factual information about their products and practices. Disclosed information is structured for comparability and updated at regular intervals. Transparency systems always have regulatory purposes and such purposes vary widely. Systems have been designed to protect investors, improve public health and safety, reduce pollution, minimize corruption, and improve public services.

In the United States, nutritional labeling, public school report cards, restaurant grading systems, campaign finance disclosure, toxic pollution reporting, auto safety and fuel economy ratings, and corporate financial reporting are among scores of transparency systems created by federal and state legislators. Internationally, infectious disease reporting, food and tobacco labeling, and multi-national financial reporting are among the disclosure systems designed to further nations’ shared aims...

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