Campaign blog

What it's like to campaign at a party conference

Jo Gikuyu's picture Jo Gikuyu Campaigns Local Organiser (Volunteer)

My name is Jo and I am the ActionAid Local Organiser for Wimbledon. For the last couple of days I have been at the Conservative Party conference to take the message of our Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign to attendees.

Jo at the Conservative party conference
Jo at the Conservative Party conference
Photo: Ema Jackson/ActionAid

Having never been to a party conference before, I had a mixed bag of expectations for the conference. I knew there was going to be a lot of issues competing for the interest of party members but I expected to be able to engage and lobby a few of them on tackling tax dodging. I was also looking forward to meeting and learning from ActionAid's team at the conference.

The Rt Hon Desmond Swayne MP, Minister of State for International Development with the Towns Against Tax Dodging mapDesmond Swayne MP, Minister for International Development with the Towns Against Tax Dodging mapWhen I arrived at the conference, as expected there was a lot going on, with members seemingly always rushed off their feet. Often I got very small windows of opportunity to engage and hand out leaflets. We had a big map showing the support for the Towns Against Tax Dodging campaign across the country  which was great at attracting attention. This gave me the opportunity to lobby party members, helping them to buy into the campaign. We also got councillors and MPs to take pictures with the map to show their support, including Minister for International Development, Desmond Swayne.

Through ActionAid I invited my local MP Stephen Hammond to come see the Towns Against Tax Dodging map and hear about the campaign but unfortunately he was busy. I hope to arrange a meeting with him after the conference.

I also attended the Tackling Tax Avoidance fringe event that was organised by ActionAid and others such as Christian Aid and Oxfam. It was great to see a packed room of people who really care about this issue and very interesting to hear from the speakers Jim Waterson, Deputy Editor at Buzzfeed, Michael Izza, Chief Executive of ICAEW (a membership organisation for accountants), Jeremy Lefroy, MP for Stafford and Mark Goldring, CEO of Oxfam. 

From the conference I will be taking increased momentum, knowledge and skills to campaign against tax dodging which continues to be detrimental to UK citizens and small businesses as well as damaging for international development. I will put this energy into organising the event I am putting on in my local area of Wimbledon to discuss further the campaign to tackle tax dodging. Please do come along.

ActionAid campaigner Jo Gikuyu promoting Towns Against Tax DodgingThe announcement by Chancellor George Osborne this week of a new tax, aimed at giant high-tech companies like Google which pay relatively little tax in the UK, could be an important precedent for developing countries as they try to collect their own fair share of tax from multinationals.

Osborne hasn’t yet spelt out what this new “Google tax” will involve – the details will be released in the autumn. But government sources are briefing that the tax will target the so-called “Double Irish” and other complex arrangements involving strings of offshore companies and transactions.

These arrangements, which play on the differences in tax rules between one country and another, have been used by big internet companies to ensure that the taxable profits from their billions of pounds of UK sales are booked in countries where they face little or no tax. (We should note that Britain itself has long been a very big player in the offshore tax avoidance industry).

How effective is the "Google tax"?

It’s hard to know how effective the “Google tax” will be until we see the detail, because there are various different ways for a multinational to shift profits on paper from one country to another. If the new legislation is too narrowly-defined, then it could end up being little more than an invitation to the fertile minds of the tax avoidance industry to figure out clever ways around it. But if the new tax is broadly and robustly designed, it could be used to cut through the thickets of legal and accounting complexity which some big companies hide behind to avoid tax without breaking any laws.

Corporate tax dodging in developing countries

The new measure is intended to protect Britain’s tax base from sharp-but-legal practices by foreign multinationals and it has no direct implications for developing countries. But it could be symbolically important as an example of the kind of simple, effective legal tool which these countries could adopt in response to similar practices by multinationals.

Most developing countries are destinations for foreign investment and they have struggled in a global tax system which is biased towards the home countries of investors, including Britain. Osborne’s proposal is striking because it tacitly recognises that Britain, despite its massive advantages in the world economy, also struggles with tax dodging by multinationals.

The “Google tax”, if it’s properly designed, could be a model for developing countries as they try to raise the corporate tax revenues they need to pay for health, education, roads and other public goods which will help to lift their people out of poverty. So, tax authorities around the world will be watching with interest to see what Britain comes up with.

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.