After we exposed how the Associated British Foods group has been paying “virtually no corporate tax” in Zambia on Sunday, I took part in an interesting debate programme on Al Jazeera. Watch it here:
Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid
Last week I was really fortunate to be able to join my ActionAid colleagues in Liberia and engage in the civil society sessions around the Monrovia meeting of the High Level Panel on post 2015.
The High Level Panel was meeting for the second of three working sessions, in order to reflect on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals when they end in 2015. The specific focus of the Monrovia meeting was on the economic transformation needed to support development going forward, as well as the building blocks for prosperity.
ActionAid was in great company, joining forces with around 100 representatives from grassroots NGOs and networks, from Liberia, from Africa more generally, as well as from other regions around the world. Together we worked pretty tirelessly, to make sure we had clear messages to pass on to the members of the High Level Panel. The main fruits of our collective labours are set out in the impressive civil society communique that was presented to the Panel by Professor Gita Sen.
The main civil society messages to the panel – conveyed in the communique, during presentations to Panel members during a ‘Town Hall’ event, and within the specific roundtable sessions with panellists – were I think both clear and coherent, particularly on the need for a new approach to economic development that reduces inequality and protects people’s rights:
‘Alternative economic models and approaches exist that combine growth with human development and human rights in ways that are environmentally sustainable. These models are more participatory, can draw on new financing mechanisms and build on the energy and dynamism and creativity of those who are traditionally marginalised and oppressed.’ Monrovia CSO communique.
Critical here is that economies should be working first and foremost for people and planet, and not for growth and profit, something that was subsequently supported by the co-chair President Johnson Sirleaf.
But our message was also upbeat: while the poorest and most marginalised have paid the greatest price for current economic policies, it is they who also hold the key to economic transformation and prosperity going forward.
This was nowhere evident than in the case of women, young women and girls, with women receiving unequal pay, filling the worst jobs, and at the same time forced to cope with huge unpaid work responsibilities and living with endemic violence and fear of violence. The CSO communique was clear that violence in particular must be prioritised and addressed post 2015.
The High Level Panel still have one working meeting scheduled – Bali in March – before it knuckles down to produce its report in May. But at the end of its Monrovia discussions, the Panel did give some insights as to where its thinking currently is.
‘The global community must pursue economic and social transformation leading to sustained and inclusive economic growth at the local, national and global levels. The protection and empowerment of people is crucial. This will require peace building and stronger domestic institutions … and peaceful, just and equitable societies that protect and promote human rights and eliminate all forms of violence.’ High Level Panel official Monrovia communique
The question now is whether the Panel will be able to follow through and address the real and specific barriers that stand in the way of social and economic transformation, including barriers preventing women and girls – more than half the world’s population – from enjoying their rights.
Today Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, organised a debate in Parliament on Tax transparency and the widespread use of tax avoidance by FTSE 100 companies. We are very grateful that more and more parliamentarians are taking the issue of tax avoidance – and its impact on developing countries – to heart. Over the past month, more than a dozen MPs have raised this issue in Parliament.
This shows just how much we must keep supporting them through our campaign on Tax Justice and encourage them to continue to ask the government what it is doing to eliminate aggressive tax avoidance that costs our economy and those of developing countries so much.
Stephen McPartland MP has taken the initiative of writing to the Chief Executives of all the FTSE 100 companies to ask them individually if they are willing to pledge their support for corporate tax transparency and if they will support a new international accountancy standard for country-by-country reporting.
Indeed, it is important that the government and businesses speak to each other and come together to develop a solution to end tax avoidance which currently costs the UK £35 billion a year and developing countries £160 billion a year. And it is our role to hold the Government to account for that.
So we must continue to push the Government to engage with businesses. Please go to Stephen’s website taxchallenge.co.uk and sign the petition to show your support.
We must also ensure that this year the government use the UK Finance Bill to enhance information exchange thereby helping developing countries to collect their taxes, and that the Prime Minister champion better information systems and tax transparency at the G8.
Your support has ensured that the campaign is now in Parliament and the media; now we should build on this success!
"It was really productive and encouraging to see so many people turn up and to show Norman Baker the strength of local feeling” Bob Serocket, Lewes.
Bob Serocket was one of a group of six Lewes campaigners who took the call for Food not Fuel straight to the minister responsible for biofuels in the UK government. They took advantage of the key role that their local MP, Norman Baker, has on biofuels to ask how the UK government will be responding to the opportunity to address the impacts of biofuels in 2013.
They also presented the minister with a petition made up of symbolic grains of wheat signed by people in Lewes who have joined the call for ‘Food not Fuel’ and which forms part of a national petition already signed by over 8,500 people.
As the biofuels campaign manager, I went along to accompany them, and it was great to see the passion and knowledge of the group about the importance of action now on biofuels.
Ruth O’Keeffe, Lewes independent Councillor and Mayor Elect, began the meeting by explaining she had requested the appointment with Mr Baker because of the importance of the issue to her as a long-time ActionAid supporter and her concern about how biofuels are driving hunger and land grabs.
She was followed by Ruth Segal, a local Transition Town campaigner, who asked what action the UK government would be taking to respond to the opportunities for action on biofuels in 2013, both in terms of forthcoming plans to reform European biofuels policy, and the Hunger Summit, taking place in the lead up to the G8. She also highlighted how the Enough IF campaign, which is shining a spotlight on the causes of hunger in 2013, was calling for action on biofuels.
Norman Baker responded by telling the group how the UK was at the positive end of the spectrum in terms of calling for action to address the carbon emissions from biofuels in Europe but that sadly not all European countries were as progressive as the UK on the issue.
He said that there was a good consensus on biofuels within the UK government, and that government was trying to address the issues raised in the meeting. He went on to highlight the need for coordination to ensure the right policies were in place to ensure all the issues, from environment to the impact on food, were dealt with.
Speaking to the campaigners after the event, they felt that it had been a really positive experience and hoped would help lead to strong UK action on biofuels. As Ruth O’Keeffe said after the meeting, “It’s so important to grasp the nettle now as there are so many important moments coming up where ministers must tackle these issues”.
And of course we’ll be keeping the pressure up through the year, and reporting back on whether the UK succeeds in pushing for action at the forthcoming European Council meetings where biofuels are on the agenda.
If you haven’t already joined the call for ‘Food not Fuel’ then make sure you take action today.
I’m still quivering with excitement from the news that the pop-pioneers One Direction are massive tax justice fans – but now we have a whole hip hop crew getting in on the act!
I’m sure you’ll agree that depth of policy analysis from the Apopalyptics is top notch, while I can pretty much guarantee the chorus will be lodged in your head right until the G8!
Owen McEldowney from ‘The Apopalyptics’ said: ‘What companies were getting away with, within the law, was becoming a joke, so we wrote a song that says ‘Look, we all know you’re taking the p***, and we’re paying for it.’
Of course, tax dodging doesn’t just hurt the UK – and I’m sure many people in poor countries would heartily agree.
Here comes the remix (of international tax rules)!
A recent ActionAid Liberia survey, taken at three universities in Monrovia, found that 85% of female students had been harassed or asked to have sex with their instructors in exchange for grades. That’s a staggering figure but yesterday, talking to young women at the University of Liberia, it became all too easy to believe.
The group, both students and members of the steering committee of a campus project started by ActionAid, spoke eloquently about what they thought the difficulties were – from a lack of self-esteem among female students to a system where an instructor, even if banned from one campus for coercing sex from their students, could easily get a job at another.
For most, even getting into university was a struggle as few can afford the fees themselves so rely on scholarships, which many reported as being contingent on their willingness to have sex with the men making decisions on who receives them. Add to this the violence and harassment women face on their way to and from campus, the bullying and pressure to have sex as a sign of maturity from male students, and a faculty that bands together when challenged, and it seems a wonder that as many graduate as do. In one case we heard about, a female student had had to persevere for 10 years before she was finally able to gain her degree.
We heard from one male student who thought much of the fault lay with the women themselves, who be believed should be standing up and saying no more forcefully as only then could the University take action. He clearly felt that principled women should be willing to sacrifice their degrees and their futures rather than give in to harassment and intimidation. It’s an all too common view; that violence against women and girls is their problem and it’s up to them to do something about it and suffer the consequences.
While we were talking to these students, down the road bunting was being strung down the main street along which delegates to the High Level Panel will be driven on their way to discussions about what the framework that replaces the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should look like when they expire in 2015. It’s our hope that they will choose to side with the world’s women, decide that gender inequality and violence against women and girls is everyone’s problem, and recommend clear measures to focus global attention and resources on eliminating it. A new MDG on gender inequality and a target on reducing violence against women and girls are essential.
The women we spoke to are Liberia’s future. They are bright and capable; if violence and harassment holds them back from realising their dreams not only will it be an individual tragedy, but the world at large will have missed out on all they have to offer.