Campaigns

This month, all across the UK, campaigners have been spreading the word in their local communities about the need for action to tackle corporate tax dodging.

ActionAid 'Towns Against Tax Dodging' training, London, UK
Campaign volunteers show their support for Towns Against Tax Dodging
Photo: Steve Forrest/ActionAid

We all pay taxes on the money we make and the things that we buy and we all benefit from it together as a community. So when big companies avoid paying their fair share of tax, it affects us all. But it’s not just a problem in the UK; the world’s poorest countries are estimated to lose $160 billion to corporate tax dodging every year. Just think of what poor communities could achieve with that money.

19 councils have passed a motion in support of cracking down on tax dodging so far and the Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign continues to grow. As part of the campaign, local papers across the UK from Fife to Devon have published your letters and you have ordered thousands of posters to take to businesses to ask them to show their support. Order posters for your local area here.

All parties feel the pressure

The past month has also seen movement from all political parties as they feel the public pressure to tackle corporate tax dodging.

The government recently agreed to reform the ‘Patent box’, a controversial tax break for technology companies after countries, including Germany, argued that it encouraged companies to avoid taxes. And Labour promised to introduce tougher penalties for companies’ abusive tax arrangements by introducing fines of up to 100% of the tax that companies try to avoid paying. These changes won’t make a big impact on UK companies’ tax avoidance in developing countries, but they do show how campaigning has pushed tax to the top of the political agenda.

Together, we’re growing a powerful movement of people across the UK who are sick and tired of big companies getting away with unfair tax practices that cost communities in need and make it difficult for local businesses to compete. With the general election now less than six months away, let’s keep building momentum, and together we can help fix this broken system.

Will London Conference deliver for Afghan women’s rights?

Rachel Noble's picture
Rachel Noble Women's Rights Policy Adviser

Next week, Afghanistan’s newly elected President will be in London, meeting ministers from across the world to decide immediate priorities for Afghanistan’s future. Although the UK government has promised to make women’s rights a priority at the conference, our women's rights expert, Rachel Noble, explains why the rights of women in Afghanistan are hanging in the balance.

An inmate at a women's prison in Herat, Afghanistan
An inmate at a women's prison in Herat, Afghanistan.
Photo: Jenny Matthews/ActionAid

Imagine facing the daily threat of assassination every time you travelled to your job as a member of parliament. Imagine fleeing your home to escape beatings and rape, only to find yourself prosecuted by police while your tormentors walk free. Imagine going to school under threat of attack by armed insurgents. Despite the gains made in advancing women’s rights over the last 13 years, this is still the reality facing many Afghan women and girls today.

On 4 December, Afghanistan’s newly elected President, Ashraf Ghani, will be in London for the London Conference on Afghanistan 2014 to meet with senior ministers from around the world to decide the immediate priorities for Afghanistan’s future. As the NATO combat mission ends this year, there is a real risk that international attention and support to Afghan women’s rights could wane, and that the fragile but significant gains made since the US-led invasion could stall or go into reverse.

Indeed, figures released today by ActionAid in a new briefing, Hanging in the balance, show that five years on from the historical introduction of Afghanistan’s Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, almost two thirds of Afghan women have no confidence in the judicial system, while over half say they have no confidence in local police, with levels of trust down 13 per cent since 2008.

Culture of impunity persists

This is perhaps not surprising given the persistent culture of impunity for violence against women and girls - whether at home, at school or in public life - with justice for most far beyond reach

For instance, 87 per cent of women in Afghanistan suffer domestic violence. Yet shockingly, women are apparently more likely to be prosecuted for attempting to flee or report violence than those who perpetrate it. 

While there were 478 convictions under the EVAW law in 2012/13, 600 women were in prison for ‘moral crimes’ in May 2013. ‘Moral crimes’ include ‘running away’ and extramarital sexual relations (known as zina) - accusations frequently levelled at women and girls attempting to escape domestic violence, forced marriage, or who have been raped. In 2012 Human Rights Watch found almost half women in prison and virtually all girls in juvenile detention centres were there under such circumstances. 

Violence against women is also widespread outside the home.  Attacks on schools by armed insurgents are increasing, with girls’ schools particularly targeted. And women in public life – activists, teachers, politicians, policewomen – literally put their lives on the line in their efforts to promote the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. 

Just this month, a suicide bomber blew up the car carrying MP and women’s rights advocate, Shukria Barakzai. Barakzai survived, but three bystanders lost their lives.

Promises to Afghan women must be upheld

As well as being a gross violation of human rights, violence against women is a poignant indicator of wider development and security progress in Afghanistan.  Clearly there is much more that urgently needs to be done.

The UK government has said it is making women’s rights a priority at the London Conference. This is welcome, but Afghan women must be in the room when all issues are being discussed, so they can play an equal role in determining a more equitable, peaceful and sustainable future for their country. It is their right to do so, as recognised under seven UN Security Council Resolutions.

The UK and international community must use the London Conference to redouble their commitment to women in Afghanistan, both in terms of supporting the effective implementation of the EVAW law, as well as by directing funding to grassroots women’s organisations working in the front line struggle for women’s rights. 
 

Follow @ActionAid UK, Rachel and Rowan on Twitter and #Afghanfuture to get latest updates from the London Conference on Afghanistan on 4 December.

When the G20 leaders gather in Brisbane this weekend for their annual meeting they have a choice. They can either take action by tackling corporate tax dodging to ensure that governments in Africa and elsewhere can raise the money to properly fund public services including health care, or they can all but guarantee that the current Ebola crisis will not be the last of its kind.

Handwashing in Liberia
Liberians at the busy ELWA junction are taught how to properly prepare Clorox water to clean their hands to help stop the spread of Ebola
Photo: Morgana Wingard/ActionAid

The impact of Ebola

For those of us living in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea, these are hard days.  More than 13,000 people have been affected across the region, of whom some 5,000 have died, making this the worst disaster we have seen in the region since war ended more than 10 years ago. At ActionAid Liberia we are working hard to help stop the virus spreading and supporting those already affected.

One infuriating aspect of the epidemic is that it was at least partially preventable. If Liberia had a stronger health care system in place, a lot more could have been done to control the spread of the disease. Prior to the current outbreak Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea had an average of one hospital bed per 2,128 people. Compare that with Australia, where there is one hospital bed per 262 people.

When adequate healthcare services are not available, it is primarily women who end up taking care of the ill at home, or in hospitals as nurses, putting their own health at great risk. Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister for gender and development, reported that 75 per cent of those who have been infected or killed from Ebola were women.

The spread can be stopped

Unlike airborne diseases like the flu, the spread of Ebola can be stopped when caretakers have basic protective measures in place. And according to Partners In Health founder Dr. Paul Farmer, simple aggressive hydration measures can do a lot to lower the death rate of Ebola patients. But even these basic measures have largely been out of the reach of Liberia’s health care system.

Lack of investment in health care

The lack of investment in health care is neither an accident nor is it a result of natural law. It stems from policies Liberia and other African countries were subjected to – such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s structural adjustment cocktail of privatization, liberalization and budget austerity. These policies undercut the possibility for the government to invest in services and infrastructure, including health care.

Though the IMF is less of an issue than it once was, if you ask the government of Liberia to invest its resources in health care, the answer that is most likely to come back will be “what resources?” In her address of May 21, 2014, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for a “period of national sacrifice” as she unveiled an “austerity budget” of $559 million. That’s a shocking 17 per cent decrease from the budget of two years ago.

The impact of corporate  tax dodging

That the budget cuts continue despite high growth rates (8.1% in 2013) shows us that something is seriously wrong. The companies that dominate the Liberian economy – companies based in G20 countries and investing in natural resource extraction throughout the African continent – are more than likely not paying their fair share of tax.

The African Union estimates that Africa loses up to $60bn each year due to tax dodging by big companies. That is more than Africa receives in aid from rich countries.

The role of the G20

According to Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, who is hosting the G20 leaders this week, corporate tax avoidance is akin to theft. Though he was speaking of the Australian context, what’s true for Australia is no less true for Liberia. If anything the moral case to stop stealing is stronger when so many lives hang in the balance should another crisis of this kind hit.

G20 countries agreed to end the era of tax havens five years ago. But so far that promise has been largely unfulfilled. There is a plan – known as the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) process – that the G20 claims will make things better, but developing countries should be skeptical.

Everyone agrees that companies that are using tax havens to avoid tax altogether should pay tax, but there is no agreement on where they should pay. Consider a hypothetical company that is based in the USA but has significant operations in Liberia. At the moment it may be paying little tax in either jurisdiction through the use of shell companies in tax havens. But when it pays a fairer share of tax, will it pay in Liberia, in the USA or in both? It seems logical that if that company has economic activities and generating a profit in Liberia, a reasonable amount of its taxes should also be paid there.

The BEPS process is silent on this key issue. That silence may be deadly for those of us living through this crisis and dreading what the next one may be. We were unprepared and under funded this time; our funding and preparedness to the next disaster depends in no small measure on the answer to this question.

Ending tax dodging will not be a silver bullet. Once we have the money we need to make sure they are spent in a way that benefits everyone, not just elites. Citizens of Liberia, women of Liberia, must hold leaders accountable for providing strong social protection and public services.  Better quality public services mean women and girls stop paying with their time, resources and labour for healthcare. But unless companies pay their fair share of tax, there will never be enough money, not just in Liberia, but across all countries.

This article was originally published by ActionAid International.

Barclays: we did it

Eva Watkinson's picture
Eva Watkinson Campaigns Engagement Manager

53,000 people taking action, hundreds of us writing to our MPs, thousands of passionate messages and one Father Christmas later, I’m really pleased to be able to tell you that Barclays have committed to stop promoting tax dodging through tax havens to companies investing in Africa!

Here's how you made it happen.

We launched our campaign back in November 2013, after we found out the bank had been promoting the use of tax havens to companies investing in Africa.

How you made Barclays listen

Thousands of campaigners and customers wrote to the bank’s CEO Antony Jenkins demanding that they stop being part of the system that drains billions from some of the world’s poorest countries.

Just ahead of Christmas campaigners took to the streets, handing in signed Christmas cards to local branches, asking them to be a good bank this year, and in Zambia hundreds of campaigners protested outside the bank’s Lusaka headquarters.

But it wasn’t until the bank’s shareholder AGM in April that we really got their attention – with a giant billboard paid for by campaigners, and a media stunt that was splashed across the UK press. ActionAid campaigner Will Davis also asked a question directly to Antony Jenkins, and won a promise that he would look into what we were calling for.

Barclays' commitment

We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few months but behind the scenes we’ve been keeping up the pressure on Barclays, and finally it’s borne fruit.

Barclay’s commitment means that they have made changes to their website and aren’t promoting the low tax rates that are one of the key features of tax havens.

Whilst this isn’t a total victory, it’s pretty amazing that pressure from ordinary people can influence the position of one of the world’s biggest banks.

We’ll be keeping up the pressure on politicians and companies to make sure we see an end to the tax dodging that is so damaging for developing countries.

Six months to the election – let’s make it count

Eva Watkinson's picture
Eva Watkinson Campaigns Engagement Manager

Today marks six months until the UK general election on May 7th. The next few months are crucial. Together we have to get tax dodging - which costs developing countries and the UK billions - to the top of politicians' agendas.

Campaigners hold sign outside parliament, reading 'Stop the budget tax loophole, costing poor countries billions'
Campaigners take action for tax justice outside parliament
Photo: ,Kristian Buus/ActionAid

Over the past few months, campaigners across the UK have been pushing hard to make sure politicians know that constituents in their communities want them to act. Over 10,000 people have taken action across the UK. Seventeen councils have passed a motion against tax dodging; we’ve got coverage for the campaign in local media, and got local shops and businesses on board.

Have a look at our map to see if your council has already passed a motion supporting the campaign.

But we need to ramp up the pressure. Tax dodging costs the UK an estimated 12 billion every year and developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid.

ActionAid's global tax dodging campaign

It's not just in the UK that campaigners are taking action. Activists have been campaigning in over 20 countries as part of our global campaign. Charity Chisnaga, a campaigner from Zambia told us why she got involved: 

“Why this campaign is important to countries like Zambia is that revenue lost through tax havens denies ordinary citizens access to good healthcare services and education.

"Tax is a global issue and that's the reason more support is needed in solidarity, so that this giant monster of tax havens can be fought by all to make the world a better place for all.”

Holding politicians to account

We’ve already heard commitments from many politicians about taking action on tax dodging, but we have to make sure they are held to account. And the only way to do that is to make sure they know people in communities across the UK want them to act.

We’ve got a great opportunity over the next few months, let’s make it count.

Take action today by getting your local shops to sign up to the campaign, emailing your local councillors or spreading the word about our Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign.

Poorer countries losing out to Luxembourg’s tax avoidance

Murray Worthy's picture
Murray Worthy Tax Justice Campaign Manager

This morning, splashed across the pages of The Guardian, an unprecedented investigation into the tax affairs of over a thousand companies by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has exposed the huge scale of tax avoidance through Luxembourg.

Campaigners attract attention on South Bank with a pop-up tax haven, called Isle of Shady
Campaigners make a pop-up tax haven stunt on the South Bank
Photo: ActionAid

Based on nearly 30,000 pages of leaked documents, the investigation reveals how large multinational companies have created special corporate structures, with the approval of the Luxembourg government, that have allowed them to reduce their tax bills elsewhere. All of this is legal, but allows these companies to avoid paying their fair share of tax in the countries they operate in.

Poorer countries losing out

As well as leaking the internal tax affairs of well-known companies like Amazon, Ikea or Pepsi, the investigation reveals how some of the world’s poorer countries are losing out.

In one case, three Brazilian banks set up a complex system of financial transactions that allowed them to avoid nearly $90 million in taxes, according to an analysis of the leaked files by a Brazilian newspaper. This lost tax revenue could have a huge impact on public services, in a country where around 7.5 million people live on less than $1.25 a day.

Fundamental tax re-think needed

Responding to the investigation, ActionAid’s tax campaign manager, Murray Worthy said: “This exposure of the industrial scale of global tax avoidance run through Luxembourg clearly highlights the need for global action – but even the latest reforms by the G20 just tinkers around the edges of this broken system.

“This is a global issue. As well as the high street names, these files also expose how big businesses have been dodging millions of pounds of tax not just in wealthy countries, but also in the world’s poorer countries.

A fundamental re-think of the world’s tax system is needed, that puts all the issues on the table and includes all countries, including developing countries, as equal partners, to tackle these kinds of abuse.

“The current plan of letting rich countries and tax havens like Luxembourg discuss amongst themselves how to make small changes to the tax system will not stop these scandals.”

Be part of the movement for a fairer tax system, by getting your community to support our Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign.