This month I visited Chingola in Zambia’s northern Copperbelt region, to see for myself the real impact of tax dodging in a country where 2 in 3 people live below the poverty line, and 45% of children are malnourished.
Poverty forces young people out of school and into work
In a small village called Mushishima, I met Francis, an eighteen year old who spends 12 hours of every day farming the land beside their modest home. Francis used to love maths at school, and dreamt of one day running his own grocery shop. However the 10 Kwacha fee per month was too much for his parents to provide, and he was pulled out of school in grade 7.
The work Francis does in the fields doesn’t even cover the cost of maize he needs to feed himself. He thinks he’ll probably end up working for one of the mines soon – the mines accused of polluting their water and making the community ill - just to survive. I asked Francis’s aunty, Enala, what her hopes were for the future of her children. Her crushing reply was, “There is no hope.”
It's a tragedy that millions of children are missing out on an education because governments have to charge fees. But there is hope for the future. The global movement for tax justice is building, with 21 countries now signed up across the ActionAid federation.
Multinationals' tax income could make a real difference
While the future of Francis and his family is painfully uncertain, the need for all multinationals to pay their fair share of taxes to provide accountable, sustainable income is clearer to me than ever. With greater tax revenues, Zambia could make universal education a reality, and young people like Francis could fulfil their ambitions and contribute to the development of their country.
Saying our goodbyes, Enala said simply, “I am you, and you are me”.
I’ll carry these words with me, along with the buried hopes of Francis and millions of others like him, to remind me why we must continue to fight for tax justice, side by side with people trapped in poverty - in the UK, Zambia, and across the world.