Campaign blog

Things that make you go hmmm… Reflections from AidEx2013

Deepayan Basu Ray's picture Deepayan Basu Ray Resilience and Emergencies Policy Adviser

Last week I took part in AidEx 2013 hosted in Brussels, where the great and the good of the humanitarian and development world were displaying their shiny toys and gadgets - all intended ostensibly to provide life-saving relief to those stricken by 'disasters'. It was all a very surreal experience!

AidEx 2013
Global Humanitarian & Development Aid Event AidEx2013
Photo: Deepayan Basu Ray, ActionAid

Of course, my first thought was that every single stall should have packed their wares into containers and shipped them off to the Philippines instead. But the conference went ahead anyway. Thankfully, the Philippine Ambassador spoke up during the opening panel, and provided a sobering reminder to all gathered what exactly the point of this song and dance was.

Resilience after floods and conflict

I spoke on one of the panels at the event - on whether the Sustainable Development Goals - which came out of the 2012 Rio Summit - were a relevant mechanism to engage with the resilience agenda. I spoke on the concept of resilience – the ability to withstand sudden shocks like conflict or floods.

Specifically, I asked and attempted to answer two questions – resilience for whom, and resilience to what? ActionAid’s approach to resilience through a human rights approach framed my intervention, and I reflected on the challenges for the UN process and negotiations moving forward…. You see, pretty un-controversial.

After the panels, I walked around and browsed the various displays. There were admittedly some great examples of innovation, such as communications equipment, water purification systems, medical supplies and technologies, and shelter/housing  - but two things stuck with me.

Model example of a temporary hospitalModel example of a temporary hospital

First was the lengths to which the humanitarian lexicon was being appropriated to showcase the products on display - all for sale mind you, no freebies here. The makers of solar-powered lanterns used statements like “A light to empower women: safeguarding women and children from abuse, theft, and disease” to showcase their product.

I'm partial to a superlative every-once-in-a-while, but this type of advertising felt disingenuous. I admit I remain unconvinced that this lamp in itself is the cure-all solution/remedy to violence against women and children.

Second was the nagging feeling that conflict profiteers had encroached on this humanitarian space. Some of the displays would have been far more ‘at home’ at the London arms fair – DSEI.  For instance, I spent a fair while trying to figure out what the sellers of the Police Armoured Personnel Carriers were doing at AidEx.

The role of the private sector in humanitarian work

In fairness, the sellers claimed that this particular APC “could be converted to an ambulance…” Ditto for the bullet-riddled bright-orange pick-up truck showcasing armour and armoured glass for humanitarian vehicles!  Whereas traditional humanitarian actors would have routinely avoided these products, is the assumption that modern-day humanitarians are not so rigid?

Police armoured vehicleA police armoured vehicle at AidEx

If I had to sum up my impressions of AidEx 2013, I would have to borrow the title of a hit song from the early 1990s: “Things That Make You Go Hmmm..."

On one hand, there were many great examples of innovation that sought to meet the daily needs of people living in un-imaginable settings of devastation and loss. These need to be showcased, and celebrated – as AidEx appears to be doing. 

There were also a number of clear tensions in the way in which the humanitarian enterprise is moving. The growing formal engagement of the private sector introduces a whole set of assumptions and values that have not yet been reconciled with the humanitarian imperative to provide life-saving relief.

Like I said before – Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

Photo: @Deepayan Basu Ray/ActionAid

 

The UK tax havens hit town

Chris Jordan's picture Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager

It’s been another busy week for tax justice, with the UK tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Gibraltar coming to London for their annual summit.

(L-R) Georgie Redgate, Julieta Acosta, Chris Jordan and Eva Watkinson.
ActionAid Activistas and campaigners at no.10 Downing street
Photo: ActionAid

At the end of last week we delivered a whopping 38,699 petition signatures to David Cameron, asking him not to relax on tax havens. Next, we teamed up with Christian Aid, Oxfam and War on Want to sound the alarm in the media.  

Tax was one of the main items on the summit agenda, which must have been particularly embarrassing for the British Virgin Islands, which failed to meet even the OECD’s pretty low bar on tax transparency, just a week ago.   

So what’s the verdict?

We’ve certainly seen some steps in the right direction. All of the Overseas Territories have now signed up to sharing tax information on request with other countries and automatically with the UK. They’ll also consult on publishing the real (or ‘beneficial) owners of companies, after the UK announced that it would go public.

However, these are still fairly small steps compared to the scale of the problem – and certainly not nearly enough for UK tax havens to shed their label. Transparency needs to go much further (putting company accounts on public record for a start), but tax havens also need to close the harmful tax loopholes that facilitate tax dodging in the first place.     

Don’t forget that the OECD estimates developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.

The challenge now is to make sure that momentum for change continues. We couldn’t have got this far without your amazing support and with luminaries such as Kofi Annan continuing to speak out, it’s clear we’ve got an increasing number of friends in high places.

We’ve been able to demonstrate that business as usual is not an option. Next we need to stop big businesses using tax havens to avoid their bills for good.

Barclays customers demand tax haven clean up

Chris Jordan's picture Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager

Earlier this year Barclays made a huge song and dance about putting past scandals behind it and becoming a “force for good”. This should have been good news for Africa, where Barclays is the biggest retail bank, generating 10% of group profits.

Tell Barclays to clean up its act on tax havens

But we’ve found that through its ‘Offshore Corporate’ department, Barclays is promoting tax havens to big businesses in Africa. As we’ve seen with SABMiller and Associated British Foods, tax havens enable multinationals to avoid huge amounts of tax they should be paying in some of the world’s poorest countries.

In the last few months, Barclays has actually increased the number of tax havens it offers to include Mauritius, which it sells as the “gateway for investment into Africa and Asia.”

Times have changed on tax havens. When we asked You Gov to poll Barclays’ customers, it was no surprise to find that 57% thought their bank shouldn’t be promoting tax havens in developing countries.

As we’ve seen before, when big companies don’t pay their fair share of tax, ordinary people lose out.

What we’re calling for

It’s simple.  Barclays needs to clean up its act on tax havens by:

  • Closing down its Offshore Corporate department
  • Publishing a credible plan for shutting down its tax haven operations.

Please join the clean up by sending Barclays boss Antony Jenkins a message by email.

Lobbying Bill campaigning continues

Natasha Adams's picture Natasha Adams Activism Officer

Now we’re well into the ‘pause’ the Lords have granted for the Lobbying Bill, it’s important we keep the pressure on. You can join the fight by coming to the Parliamentary meeting we’re organising or by meeting your MP locally.

A five week pause is a good breather, but it’s not long enough for us to sit back and relax. The Lobbying Bill returns again to committee stage with the Lords on December 16th. The stakes are high as ever – we need to make sure this bill doesn’t stop us campaigning for global justice.

Thanks to more than 5,000 of you who have already emailed the Lords with us on this: your efforts definitely helped win the pause we have. We can continue to influence the process by keeping the pressure on Lords and on MPs. MPs can influence the Government to make the changes to the Bill that we need, and if the Bill returns to the commons they will also have to vote on them.

What can you do?

Come to our event in Westminster on the 10th. You’ll have the chance to meet decision makers and tell them what campaigning means to you and why it’s so important. For more information and to book a place email campaign@actionaid.org

Visit your MP

We’re working with a huge number of other organisations on this. 38 Degrees members are organising more local events with Members of Parliament, to discuss problems with the Lobbying Bill and build support for it to be changed.

You can join one of the meetings already arranged below, and find out about new meetings booked on Facebook. There's no need to book a place but it would be great if you could let us know if you'd like to attend a meeting.

If there are no meetings planned with your MP, they will have a regular surgery meeting time in their constituency. You’ll be able to find out when and where this is by visiting your MP’s website or by calling their office.


Local meetings
Friday 29th November, meeting with Mike Thornton MP in Eastleigh
7.30pm – 9.00pm
Pavilion on the Park
1 Kingfisher Road
Eastleigh
Hampshire, SO50 9LH

Saturday 30th November, meeting with John Howell MP in Henley
11.00am – 1.00pm
Pither Hall
The Christ Church Centre
46 Reading Road
Henley-on-Thames
Oxon, RG9 1AG

Thursday 12th December, meeting with Neil Carmichael MP in Stroud
7.15pm – 9.45pm
The Old Town Hall
The Shambles
High Street
Stroud
Gloucester, GL5 1AP

If you have any questions, please get in touch.

A moment of truth for UK tax havens

James Fisher's picture James Fisher Student Campaign Network Assistant

We can feel the momentum for the Tax Justice campaign growing every week. Next up we have a meeting of UK tax havens in London on 26th-27th November, where we could finally see the fulfilment of a promise made back in June… could this be the stage for another big leap forward?

Joy Mwakisambi from Voi, a Social Worker and part of the Activista network in Kenya (standing), with Land rights activist from Tanzania Elly Ahimidiwe.
ActionAid campaigners call for action on tax havens at the G8
Photo: Mark Chilvers/ActionAid

The story so far

Before the G8, David Cameron held a meeting with ten UK tax havens, places such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Isle of Man.

We call them ‘tax havens’ because right now they allow big business to hide tax money from many of the world’s poorest countries – money that’s desperately needed for schools and hospitals.

At the meeting they agreed to sign up to an existing international treaty called the ‘Multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance in Tax Matters’. It’s quite a mouthful, but basically it’s a deal to share information about hidden money and take the first step to ending the secrecy that lets multinational companies dodge their taxes.

What do we want now?

Well, I said they “agreed” to sign up. They haven’t actually done it yet. So we’ve been pushing hard behind the scenes to make sure this happens, while thousands of you have added your voice to our petition calling for David Cameron to sort out shady tax havens.

Signing this convention would be a positive step forwards, but these UK territories need to make a lot more progress to get rid of their ‘tax haven’ label.

Despite some of David Cameron’s musings, the fact is that UK tax havens are still being used by dodgy companies who want to avoid paying their fair share in some of the world’s poorest countries.  We still need to see much greater transparency from UK tax havens (making company accounts public for a start), but they’ve also got to reform their harmful tax rules and loopholes.

We’ve already seen another promise from the G8 fulfilled: the government announced recently that the UK will be making public a registry of the real ownership of companies. This was an important victory. We need this winning streak to continue and for all the UK tax havens to follow suit.

Our government is responsible for 1 in 5 world’s tax havens, so they must finish the job they’ve started. We can’t let David Cameron relax on tax havens!

Tags: G8, tax, tax havens

Latest news on the Lobbying Bill

Eva Watkinson's picture Eva Watkinson Campaigns Engagement Manager

It’s been an action packed week in the House of Lords, a statement we’re not always in a position to make.

The big news is that on Tuesday the Lords agreed to a pause for the Lobbying Bill. This is great news and wouldn’t have happened without thousands of campaigners taking action. So if you were one of the many who’ve written to, visited or emailed your MP or a Lord over the past few weeks, well done!

Although the pause is only for five weeks and not the three months we’d been asking for (more a breather than an actual pause), it’s still an admission the Bill needs to be looked at in more detail, and gives us a window to try and get the changes we need. 

If the Bill gets through in its current form it could seriously restrict our ability to campaign in the year before an election and could put many groups off campaigning. It’s no wonder that over sixty organisations from across the political spectrum are calling for changes to the Bill, and on Tuesday all that campaigning paid off.

We’ll be in touch soon to let you know what happens next, but until then thank you for taking action!