Campaign blog

Tackling tax avoidance at the Labour Party Conference

Florence de Vesvrotte's picture Florence de Vesvrotte Government Relations Advisor

I’ve just got back from Manchester’s Labour Party Conference 2014, the last big party gathering before the general election. Just out of a fierce battle to keep England and Scotland united, here were parliamentarians trying to show the public they had the required leadership to run the UK after May 2015.

Barry Johnston, ActionAid's Head of Advocacy at Labour Party Conference
Barry Johnston, ActionAid's Head of Advocacy at Labour Party Conference
Photo: ActionAid

Will Labour tackle tax avoidance?

ActionAid challenged the party to show what their plans were to tackle tax avoidance, which affects both the UK and developing countries. We held a fringe event where author and columnist Owen Jones, and NUS President Toni Pearce along with the ICAEW Chief Executive all made strong pleas for the UK to once and for all do something about this issue.

It was clear from the public reaction and the number of people attending that public support for action on tax avoidance is huge, and we’re confident that it will only get stronger in the run up to the election.

There was further encouragement when Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls made a commitment to clamp down on tax dodging as part of his economic plans. And fortunately for us, Ed Miliband remembered to mention it in his speech too. But we will need stronger commitments and more details from the party, particularly how their plans will include developing countries who lose billions of pounds a year.

We won’t let go about Afghan women’s rights

Last but not least, ActionAid for the fourth consecutive year held an event on Afghanistan and the need to protect women's rights as we approach the end of NATO combat troop presence.

Unfortunately this isn't an issue that is really high on parliamentarians' agenda at the moment, so we were glad that the shadow Secretary of State for international development Jim Murphy turned up, and engaged with us on this. We will continue to ensure Afghan women are not forgotten.

What next for ActionAid at party conferences?

Next up we’re off to the Midlands for the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. More to follow. In the meantime, please do speak to your MP, councillor, friends, everyone around you about tax avoidance and how important it is for the Government to do something about it!

This week UN member countries meet in New York to discuss the way forward on what will replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. While the support for a gender goal is on the horizon, many more resources are needed to improve women’s lives and close gender gaps.

Rwandan minister of Agriculture and Livestock Dr Agnes Kalibata at Internation Women's Day celebrations in Nyanza
Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Dr Agnes Kalibata talks to women's co-operativesin Nyanza on Internation Women's Day celebrations in 2011, where she pledged the government's commitment to improve the lives of people living in poverty
Photo: ActionAid

As the balmy September breeze blows into New York, world leaders are gathering once again for the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The stakes are particularly high this year as the process for determining the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) gets seriously underway. 

Good news: standalone gender goal is on the horizon

For supporters of women’s rights the good news is that the current proposals for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

However, whether member states have the political will to truly champion the rights of women and girls will be put to test with the negotiations on the ultimate shape of the new goals and the discussions on financing.

At the UNGA there are two key documents up for review (among others):

The Open Working Group Document is a culmination of 13 sessions with governments and civil society held in the UN for over 16 months leading up to July this year. It proposes 17 goals and 170 targets to guide development efforts after 2015. It is also a key input for member states to consider in this week's post MDG negotiations.

Some of the supporting targets for the standalone gender goal incude:

It is also positive that gender concerns about education, water, health and employment have been included in the Open Working Group Document.

For example, the proposed goal on sustainable economic growth includes targets on decent work for women and equal pay for work of equal value. These are crucial areas to advance women's equal participation in the labour market, and hopefully will be included permanently.

More than good intentions: financing for gender equality and women’s rights

Making new development goals work for women and girls, however, will require more than good intentions - as reflected in the proposed goals and targets - but equitable, accountable and just financing.

The International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Ddevelopment Financing estimates that delivering the future framework will require additional investments to the tune of $5-$7 trillion each year up to 2030. Unfortunately ActionAid's analysis shows that their report fails to bring ambitious proposals to fix the broken system of development financing.

For example, while putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of domestic public finance, the ICESDF report falls short of providing strong recommendations to end widespread practices of tax dodging; recommendations which would eventually lead to more resources being available to finance gender and social policy goals.

The Committee also shied away from proposing a clear timeline for donors to meet their aid commitments. The consequences of this are far reaching and tell us there is a huge gap between donors’ rhetoric and actual practice, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Network on Gender Equality (pdf) research also shows.

Finally, the importance of economic growth and private sector financing as key to attain new development goals is a major concern for ActionAid. While there is strong evidence demonstrating that gender equality has a strong positive impact on growth, there is little to suggest that the reverse is true. Governments are also first responsible for their development and can't transfer their responsibilities to the actors they hardly regulate and can't control.

Paving the way to new development goals

As we move towards final deliberations it is essential to protect the positive gains made to date in formulating new development goals and fill the remaining gaps.

We are calling for the new goal on women's rights and gender equality to be grounded in international human rights. Lack of references and focus on all women's rights is the key pitfall of the current proposal. Other issues essential for the new framework to succeed include strong accountability mechanisms for all actors, and time-bound targets to guide the delivery.

While on the surface it may seem that gender equality and women’s rights are far afield from development financing, these fundamental human rights lay the ground for just fiscal policies. Promotion of gender equality needs to encompass wider aspects of economic policies with a specific focus on revenue raising, management and allocations and explicitly embrace the strategy of gender-responsive budgeting.

The dominant approach to development and its financing for too long has been preoccupied with matters that don't truly advance gender equality and women's rights. So it's critical that UN member countries bend the arc of history and support a strong women's rights goal and mobilisation of many more resources to finance commitments that to date were put on the post 2015 table - and will hopefully improve, and will be there to stay.

Taking our Towns Against Tax Dodging message to Labour conference

Kamaljit Singh's picture Kamaljit Singh Campaigns Local Organiser (Volunteer)

This week I was at the Labour party conference in Manchester with ActionAid Campaign Manager Lucy Hurn to promote the brilliant Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign. What a fabulous response on our first day.

Politicians show their support for Towns Against Tax Dodging

There was lots of interest in the campaign and loads of people wanting to get involved in the campaign. We got the support of lots of Councillors who pledged to promote the campaign in their areas, including Councillor Carl Richards in Bournemouth, Councillor Rehman from Oldham and Durham County Councillors Sonia Forster, Mike Dixon and Rachel Lumsdon.

It was a great day handing out loads of flyers to attendees and I even managed to speak to Alison McGovern (Shadow Minister for International Development), who said she'd like to know more about the campaign, so I'll be contacting her soon.

Last but not least I spoke to Michelle Swallow (Councillor in Bradford), one of the most passionate people I've had the pleasure of meeting at the conference. Michelle has pledged her support and I will be holding her to her word.

ActionAid's event is a huge success

The conference itself was fantastic and the event - that ActionAid hosted with Christian Aid, Oxfam and others on tackling corporate tax dodging in 2015 - was a tremendous success (our room was standing room only, such was the interest and passion shown).

This is without doubt a subject that touches people and there were some fantastic emotive, passionate conversations that took place… it’s quite apparent the campaign is working and there is without doubt a definite positive momentum and shift taking place.

Our campaigning is having an effect

All I will conclude with is that we are having an effect, and people (politicians and otherwise) are standing up and taking notice. The weekend has been a wonderful enlightening experience and has shown me, as a novice campaigner, that we can all make a difference and make the planet a fairer and better place for all.

Onwards and upwards as they say... to infinity and beyond!

ActionAid will be at the Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences in the coming weeks.

Local events to tackle tax dodging

Natasha Adams's picture Natasha Adams Activism Officer

We're coordinating a series of local events to get the conversation started about the impact tax dodging is having on communities across the world, and what we can do about it. Take a look at our map to see if we're bringing the campaign to a venue near you.

Campaigners supporting Towns Against Tax Dodging
Campaigners in Islington supporting the campaign
Photo: ActionAid

Love your community, hate tax dodging

People across the UK are pretty angry that big companies are getting away with dodging billions in taxes. As political parties decide their priorities in the build up to the general election in May, now is the time to make sure politicians hear our call loud and clear for tax justice.

We'd love it if you could join the tax dodging debate by coming to a local event. So far, we've got the following events booked in, but it's worth checking the map as we'll be adding more.

  • Tuesday 21st October: Haringey - Cypriot Community Centre, 6:30pm
  • Thursday 23rd October: Bristol - Hamilton House, 6:30pm
  • Saturday 25th October: Ely - The Old Dispensary, 7:00pm
  • Tuesday 28th October: Manchester - The Mechanics Institute, 6:30pm
  • Wednesday 29th October: Anglesey - St Cyngar Church Hall, 6:30pm
  • Thursday 30th October: St Albans - Trinity United Reformed Church, 6:30pm
  • Saturday 2nd November: Dalston - Passing Clouds 6:15pm 

Would you like to find out more? Come to a local event to hear from our tax experts on the impacts of  tax dodging, and what we can all do about it. We've got plans to make tax dodging a huge issue next year - this is the start of an exciting campaign we hope you'll be part of.

If there isn't an event near you, don't worry - you can still do a lot to support the campaign. If you haven't already, email your local councillors to ask for their support, and check out our campaign toolkit for more things you can do in your community.

Barriers to women’s equal participation in the labour market

Daphne Jayasinghe's picture Daphne Jayasinghe Women’s Rights Policy Adviser

What are the barriers to women’s equal participation in the labour market? This has been the question on the agendas for global decision-makers this month as the G20 and the World Bank consider how to economically empower women. We at ActionAid are asking the same question, but we may have different answers.

Rina Parveen (in pink) joined this women's group in West Bengal, India in 2008.
Rina Parveen (in pink) joined the women's group in West Bengal, India in 2008. The group promotes ID cards for health benefits, housing loans, and access to scholarships to help break the cycle of poverty and violence, and build economic alternatives
Photo: Nicola Bailey/ActionAid

The World Bank is currently on the European tour of the launch of their latest gender report Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity. This is an important report which recognises that there is more to women’s empowerment than simply increasing access to income or goods and services.

The report points out that in spite of advances in girls’ education and women’s political participation, poverty combines with harmful social norms to create multiple barriers to women’s equal participation in society, barriers which act as constraints on their voice and agency.

The report builds on the Bank’s Women, Business and the Law analysis to assess legal frameworks which restrict choices girls and women can make in the labour market. It shows how constraints on sexual and reproductive rights are limiting women’s opportunities.  Girls and women are prevented from making choices about sex, when they get pregnant and when they get married and this impacts on their life choices and opportunities as well as their power inside and outside the home.

Gender discrimination is multi-dimensional

Importantly, the report shows how multi-dimensional gender discrimination is. Overlapping disadvantages or systematic exclusion is experienced as a result of multiple inequalities that limit life chances. Poverty limits choices and forms of discrimination based on, for instance, ethnicity, sexual orientation, caste and class, all intersect with gender and magnify disadvantages. 

This report shows how women often suffer multiple deprivations, such as limited control over household resources, child marriage and violence. Furthermore, women with primary education or less are more likely to experience one or more of these deprivations.

G20 commitments are a start but not enough

The World Bank has joined the IMF, the OECD and the ILO to present some of its findings to G20 Labour Ministers meeting this month in Melbourne. The G20 is deeply concerned about the shortage of labour required to fuel its growth objectives and somewhat concerned with gender discrimination which they say affects labour productivity. We are concerned about gender discrimination because it’s a women’s rights violation and achieving gender equality and women’s economic justice is a valuable end in and of itself.

Both reports acknowledge the ‘cultural barriers’ to women’s equal participation in the labour market and public life and the importance of challenging gender stereotypes in education and employment. The G20 Labour Ministers declaration commits to policy priorities to address barriers including affordable and quality childcare and paid parental leave which is to be commended.

Gender blind economic policies are not helping

However both reports fall short of recognising the ways in which the market led growth agenda can exacerbate gender inequalities and drive the concentration of women in low paid and precarious work. It is no coincidence that gender power hierarchies in the household are replicated in the labour market.

Employers rely on such inequalities to recruit a ready supply of women prepared to trade equal pay and labour rights for flexible work they can combine with the unrelenting workload of caring for their families. Patriarchy is pervasive and resistant to change.  It takes more than a commitment to increase female labour force participation to smash it.

Whilst commendable, it is not enough to add female labour market participation to the agendas of the G20 and international organisations. Gender inequality has relevance across economic agendas of G20 economies and the international financial institutions and it is the gender blind approach to developing budgets, fiscal policy and regulating companies that contributes to wider gender discrimination throughout society.

G20 countries and the international financial institutions (IFIs) must consider the effects of their decisions and actions on the voice and agency of women and marginalised communities. Christine Lagarde has been vocal on the importance of women’s leadership but she herself recently admitted that IMF staff consider gender issues a ‘distraction from the more pressing problems of financial stability or monetary policy’.

Until policy makers and political leaders recognise gender inequality at the heart of prevailing approaches to growth and job creation there is very little chance of finding the solution to gender inequality in the labour market.

ActionAid UK's new report out today outlines why the UK's tax rules don't work for poor countries. Anders Dahlbeck tells us why we need to keep up the campaign pressure.

Tax justice protesters in Lusaka
Tax justice protesters in Lusaka
Photo: Owen Miyanza/Demotix/ActionAid

In a new report today, ActionAid UK outlines why the BEPS (base erosion profit shifting) project, which is supposed to fix tax dodging, doesn’t work for poor countries.

What's missing from the BEPS?

  • Poor countries are not part of the negotiations of new international tax rules. They are being consulted, but when push comes to shove, it’s rich countries at the negotiating table making the decisions.
  • The BEPS project doesn’t deal with many of the issues that are important to developing countries. For example, it doesn’t deal with the issue of where profits made in developing countries are taxed.
  • The solutions proposed are often expensive and unnecessarily difficult to implement. This makes it hard for resource poor developing countries to benefit from them.

This is all very disappointing as rich governments last year promised that international tax reforms would benefit poor countries as well.

We need to keep up the campaign pressure

Campaigners should not be discouraged though. The fact that the BEPS project is happening at all is in large parts down to campaigners showing their outrage at tax dodging in the past few years. Politicians responded to our demands to put this on the political agenda. Now we must hold them accountable for delivering.

This wave of tax reforms will also bring some positive things with it, mainly for prosperous and resource rich countries. These benefits include increased transparency around where companies book their profits and pay tax. This will make it easier for tax authorities to ensure that companies pay the tax that they are supposed to.

Developing countries need to be treated equally

Continued pressure will also help push international forums such as the G8 and G20 to commit to further reforms that will actually benefit poor countries who desperately need big business to pay their fair share of tax, so that those countries get the revenues needed to lift themselves out of poverty.

It is important that from here on in developing countries are treated as equal partners in international tax negotiations. The best way to ensure this, is to move tax reform negotiations away from restricted forums such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (where they are currently taking place) into truly global forums, such as the UN.