All I want for Christmas

Claire Donner's picture
Claire Donner Digital Campaigner

Thanks to your support 2014 has been pretty fantastic. But our work is far from done and we’re all really excited about what’s on the cards for 2015. So we put together this Christmas wish list with just a flavour of what we’ve got planned.

1. For the next government to put tackling tax dodging at the top of their agenda

Whichever political party gets into government after May’s general election needs to make sure they prioritise tackling tax dodging by big businesses in poor countries. Over four in five of us believe tax dodging is unfair, and every year governments around the world are losing out on billions of pounds of tax that could be going to provide basic services like roads, schools and hospitals to fight poverty.

Also if the next government stopped companies dodging tax, by next Christmas we might be able to worry a bit less about whether or not we’re buying our presents from tax dodgers!

2. A fair deal for developing countries on climate change

Richer countries caused most of the problem, but it’s the world's poorest people that are bearing the brunt of climate change. With the global climate change negotiations gearing up for a big meeting in Paris in December 2015, we need to push politicians for a fair deal that sees carbon emissions drastically reduced and that ensures there’s support for developing countries.

3. To make the world a safer place for women

Women and girls around the world face widespread violence, sexual harassment and abuse in their homes, workplaces, on the streets and on public transport.

The new ActionAid UK Women’s Rights campaign will launch in 2015 where we’ll stand together to empower women all over the world to break the cycle of poverty and violence.

4. For the global movement to keep growing

We’re part of a powerful and growing community of activists and campaigners across the world fighting to end poverty and its causes. Next year, we hope to see our movement go from strength to strength. And we’re so glad that you’re a part of it!

5. You!

We couldn’t do any of this without our fantastic supporters! Whether you’re signing a petition, writing to a CEO, meeting your MP, donating money, or writing to the local press, it’s your support that can help make all of this possible.

As well as all of the amazing things you do at home and in your communities, we love meeting you face-to-face so we can provide support and share ideas. In January and February next year we’ll be holding a number of events across the UK, providing training on how to campaign to get companies to pay their fair share of taxes across the world! Make our wish come true? Grab your free space!

So whatever you’re celebrating this festive season, from everyone here on the ActionAid UK Campaigns Team, have a great time and we’ll be in touch in the new year with great ways to get involved!

What do you want to see in 2015? Add your ideas in the comments below.

Want to find out how you can help stop the tax dodgers?

Eva Watkinson's picture
Eva Watkinson Campaigns Engagement Manager

Four out of five of us here in the UK think that tax avoidance by big companies, whilst legal, is wrong, and that political parties should be doing more to tackle it. If you want to be part of making that happen - then now's your chance.

In the new year we're running training events up and down the UK where you can find out more, learn new skills and meet other people in your area to help step up the campaign.

ActionAid campaigners Georgie and Julietta take action outside UK parliament
ActionAid campaigners Georgie and Julietta take action outside UK parliament
Photo: ActionAid

We all pay our tax. But companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks can get away without paying their fair share.

Every year the UK loses billions of pounds, while developing countries lose an estimated $160 billion a year from corporate tax dodging. This is money which could be spent on tackling poverty, at home and abroad.

Campaigners have been taking action up and down the UK as part of our Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign, but next year we want to take the campaign to the next level.

We're putting on events up and down the UK where you can get a sneak preview of our newest campaign, find out more about how you can stop the tax dodgers in their tracks and meet other ActionAid supporters in your area.

To join in, just find the event nearest you from the list below and click on the link to book your space.

Book your space at one of our events

To be confirmed - watch this space

Let's Make Tax Fair - Birmingham 
Saturday, 31 January 2015 from 10:30 to 16:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Brighton
Wednesday, 4 February 2015 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Bristol
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT)

Cambridge **NEW**
Let's Make Tax Fair - Cambridge
Monday, 2 February 2015 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT)

To be confirmed - watch this space

Let's Make Tax Fair - Edinburgh
Thursday, 5 February 2015 from 19:00 to 21:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Exeter
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Glasgow
Thursday, 19 February 2015 from 18:30 to 20:30

Let's Make Tax Fair - Leeds 
Saturday 21 February 2015 from 10:00 to 13:00 (GMT) 

Let's Make Tax Fair - London
Saturday, 7 February 2015 from 11:00 to 16:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - London
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Manchester 
Thursday, 12 February 2015 from 18:00 to 20:30 (GMT)

Let's make tax fair - Newcastle
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 from 18:00 to 20:00 (GMT)

Let's Make Tax Fair - Oxford
Thursday, 5 February 2015 from 18:00 to 20:00 (GMT)


*We will be putting on events in Bangor and Cardiff too, so watch this space for more details in the New Year. 

For decades, Britain has been the centre of a web of tax havens which have sucked countless sums in corporate profit out of countries around the world and into offshore bank accounts where they face little or no tax, often quite legally.

Tax havens and developing countries
Developing countries lost three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid every year
Photo: ActionAid

British governments, for at least the last decade, have gone out of their way to make the UK’s tax system as attractive as possible to multinational companies. But changing times have forced a limited, partial but still significant change of tone from the country’s politicians.

Public anger against tax avoidance

At a time when public finances are tight, discontent is growing among the British public against tax avoidance by big companies. A poll commissioned by ActionAid and Christian Aid found that more than four out of five British adults think the practice is wrong, even when it’s legal, and nearly four out of five worry about tax avoidance in poor countries too.

Politicians are keen to be seen to respond. In his Autumn Statement, a mid-year snapshot of the British government’s economic plans, Chancellor George Osborne has just announced a new “Diverted Profits Tax” which will impose a 25 per cent tax on profits “generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country.”

What will the new “diverted profits tax” mean in practice?

As we wrote back in September, the Chancellor is thinking of digital giants like Google which use tax planning techniques to ensure that their profits legally end up in tax havens, rather than the countries where they actually make their money. The government says this new tax will bring in around £300 million a year over the next five years, which seems conservative but plausible given what we know about the sales and profits of big tech companies.

But companies in other sectors of the UK economy are known to use similar techniques, so we need to see the fine detail of the new tax before we can judge whether will be a significant counter-strike against corporate tax-dodging or more of a tactical response to a few big cases highlighted in the media. We’ll also need to see how it sits within the constraints of European law, which some multinationals are adept at exploiting.

Why Britain needs to reform other tax rules

Despite the uncertainties about what it would mean in practice in the UK, the concept of a tax which claws back revenue from profit-shifting multinationals is one that finance ministries in poorer countries ought to study closely, to see how it can be adapted for their own conditions. Developing countries are known to lose huge sums to tax avoidance, including by British companies, and this new tax could be a model.

But despite the newfound willingness of Britain’s politicians (from all parties) to take a more vigorous stance against certain forms of tax avoidance, the bigger picture unfortunately hasn’t changed much. British tax law (specifically, the anti-tax haven or “Controlled Foreign Companies” rules) still includes some provisions which are deliberately designed to attract multinationals to the UK by ignoring their tax-dodging activities overseas. British companies still publish so little information about their global activities that it’s hard to tell whether they might be paying enough tax in developing countries or not.

So as far as the tax problems of developing countries are concerned, there’s still a long way for Britain to go. With a general election coming up in the middle of next year, now is the time for the UK’s political parties to show that they’re willing to make root-and-branch changes to the tax rules, in the interests of fighting poverty overseas as well as ensuring greater economic justice at home.

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.