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Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

Academics target the tax dodgers - come along to an exciting event

Ema Jackson's picture Posted by Ema JacksonCampaigns Assistant
 
Caroline Muchanga showing her receipt for the market stall tax she has to pay.
Caroline, a market trader in Zambia, pays more tax than the multi-national company, ABF, located next door.
Photo: Jason Larkin/Panos Pictures/ActionAid

It’s always great to see more groups get involved with tax justice, so we’re excited to be teaming up with the esteemed Academics Stand Against Poverty.

They’re a group of international researchers who will be digging the dirt on tax havens and the dodgers. To help kick things off, we’ll be at their launch conference on illicit financial flows in a few weeks’ time.

It takes place in London on 23 October from 12.30-5.30 – and is free for all.

There’s more information and the chance to book a place here.

Free film tour – catch The UK Gold at a cinema near you

Eva Watkinson's picture Posted by Eva WatkinsonCampaigns Engagement Manager
 

If you only see one film over the next couple of months make sure it’s this one. 

We’ve teamed up with Oxfam and ChristianAid to bring you a sneak preview of The UK Gold, a new film that lifts the lid on tax dodging and has been described by the Guardian as “The kind of film to get the blood boiling and steam hissing out of your ears.”

Featuring interviews with a host of experts, including Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network, Richard Brooks who first broke the story in Private Eye, our own Chris Jordan, and Pamela Chisanga from ActionAid Zambia, the film expertly dissects the way in which vast sums of taxes are funnelled away from the people who need them and into tax havens.

Developing countries lose three times as much to tax havens as they receive in aid every year – that’s money that could be spent on vital services like health and education.

The UK Gold is a new documentary by Mark Donne that gets to the heart of how and why multinationals are getting away with dodging billions in taxes.

Is there an MP meeting about the Lobbying Bill near you?

Eva Watkinson's picture Posted by Eva WatkinsonCampaigns Engagement Manager
 
ActionAid campaigners in Westminster
ActionAid campaigners in Westminster
Photo: Kristian Buus/ActionAid

The Lobbying Bill currently going through parliament could seriously impact on our ability to campaign on the issues that count.

Many constituents across the UK are meeting with their MPs to express their concern. Please see below, if there is a meeting happening in your area and you’d like to go please let us know by emailing campaign@actionaid.org.

Rally for Freedom of Speech - Tuesday 8 October

In addition to the MP meetings, next Tuesday we will be joining with a huge range of campaign groups and charities at a rally in Parliament Square in London to celebrate freedom of speech on the day that the government are debating the controversial Lobbying Bill. You can find our more and join us.

MP Meetings

Thursday 17th October
Where: Wolfson Hall, Churchill College, Storey’s Way, Cambridge, CB3 0DS
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge

Thursday 17th October
Where: Saint Stephen’s Church, 21 St Stephen’s Avenue, Bristol, BS1 1EQ.
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West

Friday 18th October
Where: St John’s Hall, Alverton Street, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 2QR
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Andrew George, MP for St Ives

Friday 18th October
Where: Chippenham Town Hall, High Street, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN15 3ER
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Duncan Hames, MP for Chippenham

Thursday 24th October
Where: Venue to be confirmed
When: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Who: Meeting for constituents Lorely Burt, MP for Solihull.

Friday 25th October
Where: Grace Murrell Suite, Riviera International Conference Centre, Chestnut Avenue, Torquay, Devon TQ2 5LZ
When: 8pm – 9:30pm
Who: Meeting for constituents of Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay. Adrian Sanders has been invited.

Friday 25th October
Where: Treviglas Community College, Bradley Road, Newquay, TR7 3JA
When: 8pm – 9:30pm
Who: Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay

Friday 25th October
Where: Cheam High School, Chatsworth Road, Cheam, SM3 8PW
When: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Who: Paul Burstow, MP for Sutton and Cheam

Friday 25th October
Where: Norwich Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich, NR2 1EW.
When: 7pm – 9pm
Who: Simon Wright, MP for Norwich South

Three cheers for tax justice!

Caroline Jones's picture Posted by Caroline JonesCampaign Officer
 
Isle of Shady - tax haven stunt on the South Bank
ActionAid/Enough Food IF tax haven stunt on the London southbank this June
Photo: Claire Donner, ActionAid

The Tax Justice Campaign has celebrated some incredible wins over the past few weeks and we wanted to share them with you, the people who made them happen.

Campaign win at the G20

The meeting of the G20 in Russia this month brought fantastic news for the unstoppable global movement for tax justice, with leaders setting a timeframe to begin automatically sharing information on income stashed to avoid paying taxes. This will make it easier for developing countries to track and collect the taxes that are rightly theirs.

This is a crucial first step and one to celebrate, particularly as this is one of the big changes the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF…’ coalition was pushing for earlier this year. We’re still worried that if the poorest countries don’t have the capacity to collect and share their own tax information, they will be left out of the sharing process. We’ll be fighting for information to be passed on whether countries can reciprocate or not.

The leaders G20 also agreed a major review of international tax rules for multinationals. This has huge potential to fix some of the biggest problems over the next couple of years, but at the moment the poorest countries will have little say in the negotiations. We’ll continue to push for a good result for all countries.    

Netherlands review unfair tax treaties

In July, Mongolia took the rare step of cancelling its unfair tax treaty with the Netherlands, prompting the Dutch government to announce a review of 23 of its tax treaties with developing countries. They also committed to adding in measures to help prevent tax fraud, and to pass on information to tax inspectors in least-developed countries when multinationals request preferential tax deals.

Recent ActionAid research into SABMiller & Associated British Foods (ABF) showed how ‘mailbox’ companies registered in the Netherlands drained tax revenues out of developing countries, prompting discussion in Dutch Parliament. Less than six months after our report on ABF was published highlighting tax dodging in Zambia, the Dutch government commissioned a report which, for the first time, agreed that developing countries miss out on substantial tax revenues because of favourable tax treaties with the Netherlands. And guess what – the first treaty they will review is the treaty with Zambia.

A major tax haven like the Netherlands acknowledging that tax havens cripple development and taking steps to reduce tax dodging is a triumph for tax justice campaigners, showing that our campaigning is making real change for the poorest.

UK declare action on companies hiding their tax haven operations

Since 2011, we’ve been highlighting that many of the biggest UK companies are not complying with their legal duty to publish a full list of their operations in tax havens. Most recently in 2012 ActionAid revealed that 1 in 10 British companies on the FTSE 100 failed to disclose foreign subsidiaries, amounting to over 1,000 hidden companies.

As a result, Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable announced a further investigation into compliance by the FTSE 350 and the findings, published last week, reveal systemic and widespread failure to meet legal requirements to declare all offshore subsidiaries.  The Minister has finally promised action to resolve the issue.

Thank you

We could never have imagined such progress even 12 months ago, and it’s really testament to your campaigning that we’ve come this far. We have some way to go, but I hope that seeing the difference concerted campaigning is having, provides you with some inspiration along the road to tax justice!

Lead minister on biofuels tells ActionAid that UK government supports 5% cap

Lucy Hurn's picture Posted by Lucy HurnBiofuels Campaign Manager
 
Norman Baker receives biofuels campaigns message ActionAid supporters and staff
Norman Baker receives biofuels campaigns message from Jenny Ricks, Head of Campaigns for ActionAid UK, and ActionAid supporters
Photo: Lucy Hurn/ActionAid

Last week we finished off a jam-packed week of campaigning on biofuels when we met the Minister responsible for biofuels in the British Government, Norman Baker, to demand the UK supports the call for Food Not Fuel.

ActionAid campaign supporters and Activistas Julieta Acosta, Christopher Chan and Katrina Gajewska, joined ActionAid head of campaigns, Jenny Ricks, to call on Norman Baker, Minister at the Department for Transport, to listen to the 30,000 ActionAid supporters who have supported the call for Food Not Fuel and ensure the UK supports a 5% cap on food and land based biofuels in Europe.

Following the vote on the reform of European biofuel policy by MEPs, negotiations now pass to European member states where ActionAid is calling on the UK to lead in ensuring a deal which ends the madness of a policy which is fuelling hunger, land grabs and climate change.

UK government supports 5% cap

Norman Baker said at the meeting that the UK wanted as low a cap as possible and was calling for at least a 5% cap n food based biofuels in negotiations with other European member states. He also emphasised that ruling out the worst biofuels in terms of climate change (through measuring the emissions from indirect land-use change, known as ‘binding ILUC factors’) must be part of any future deal.

He said he was committed to working with like-minded MEPs to try and get a strong deal before Parliament dissolves for European Parliamentary elections next year.

Mr Baker also highlighted the challenge of ensuring other European countries support a strong deal and the importance of keeping up the pressure on politicians across Europe. Last week ActionAid campaigners and volunteers from Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece and France, as well as the UK were in Brussels to lobby their MEPs. And earlier this week ActionAid was part of the cross European petition hand in of the demands of almost 250,000 people calling for an end to bad biofuels, ahead of the Parliamentary vote.

Whilst the statement from Norman Baker is very welcome, we are still calling for the UK to do more to lead in negotiations in Europe, and to strenghen their position to also include biofuels grown on land that could have been used to grow food.

Given a last minute ammendment in the MEP vote last week, the process for finally agreeing a European position on reforming biofuels is likely to have been delayed, but we'll continue to push the UK and MEPs to ensure the proposal is as strong as possible, and work with other ActionAid offices to keep up the pressure across Europe. 

 

MEPs ignore voters and the world's poor in biofuels vote

Lucy Hurn's picture Posted by Lucy HurnBiofuels Campaign Manager
 
6 Community campaigners and 4 Activistas outside the European Parliament
ActionAid campaigners outside the European Parliament
Photo: Natasha Adams/ ActionAid UK

Today MEPs across Europe turned their backs on the world’s poor and their own constituents as they voted through a 6% cap on food based biofuels in Europe.

It’s been a nail biting few days waiting to see how MEPs would vote. We’ve been calling on them to cap European use of biofuels that compete with food at 5% and to rule out the worst biofuels in terms of climate change. Biofuels made from food drive hunger - growing crops to make fuel instead of food drives up food prices and forces people in poor countries off their land to make way for biofuels plantations. 

The disappointing decision flew in the face of the EU’s own research lab highlighting the impact of biofuels on food costs and nearly 50,000 messages sent to MEPs by ActionAid supporters across the UK, demanding that they vote for Food not Fuel.

Put simply a 6% cap on the proportion of food and land based biofuels used in Europe would allow enough food to be burnt as fuel in cars in Europe every year to feed over 200 million people.

But some progress was made – the vote was extremely tight with many MEPs listening to our call to vote for Food not Fuel. The vote also marked a real turning point in European policy on biofuels as MEPs acknowledged the role that biofuels have in causing hunger and contributing to climate change.

What happens next

Whilst the outcome is highly disappointing, this is not the end of the road. All eyes now pass to the European Council where member states still have an opportunity to strengthen the proposal. We hope the UK government will lead the progressive nations of Europe in setting the bar high in these negotiations and supporting a low cap.  As a letter from the CEOs of charities including ActionAid warned, unless the UK supports a cap of no more than 5%, it will be failing to live up to David Cameron's promise made ahead of the G8 to tackle global hunger.

We’ll be working behind the scenes to keep the pressure on the UK government, including taking your demands to Norman Baker, the Minister responsible for biofuels in the UK government, to show him the support behind the campaign for Food not Fuel.

How far we’ve come

After years campaigning on biofuels, it’s easy to feel disheartened by today’s outcome. But actually it’s really encouraging how far we’ve come – when ActionAid launched our campaign in 2009, we were a lone voice in raising the impact of biofuels on hunger. Thanks to your support, we’ve really changed the debate round in the last few years, bringing the media, the streets of Brussels and MEP inboxes ablaze with the call for food not fuel. 

After a very tense few days following the rumours of deals being struck between the parties, we’ve seen MEPs agree to vote against their party’s line on the strength of conversations and meetings they’ve had with ActionAid supporters. In the debate about the policy reform earlier this week we saw MEPs quoting our statistics and arguments.

And at the press conference following the vote, the MEP who has been leading the negotiations, said she ‘has never seen such lobbying pressure’ from industry before. The fact that, in the face of this pressure, we still managed to get MEPs to vote for a cap at all shows the impact we’ve had.

The nitty gritty details:

  1. The cap: MEPs narrowly voted through a cap of 6%
    • the proportion of food and energy based crops that count towards meeting European renewable energy targets is capped at 6%
    • the cap applies to towards both the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)
    • This is certainly no worse than the Commission’s original 5% proposal because it widen the cap to include all energy crops and is in both directives.
  2. Indirect Land Use Change: Reporting in the RED (i.e. measuring but not ruling out the worst) and then ruling out the worst in the FQD from 2020
  3. Delay in agreement on biofuels: It was expected that negotiations would move straight to Council and then on to Parliament and Council to reach an agreement before European Parliament elections next May. But MEPs voted against this by one single vote. Instead, after member states agree their position at Council, the proposal must go back to the Parliament to debate again.

    Whilst this delays an ultimate agreement, the uncertainty may also slow down new industry investment in biofuels.