What does Eurovision have to do with tackling tax avoidance? | ActionAid UK

As countries across Europe battle for first place in the Eurovision Song Contest 2016, we’re asking how they score on tackling global tax dodging. And I'm afraid it's bad news for the UK, with nul points on ActionAid's scoreboard. Read on to find out why.

Audience waves flags at Eurovision Song Contest
As the UK prepares to battle for points at Eurovision, we ask how well the country scores on tackling tax dodging.

Five points to beat from last year’s Eurovision

Let’s face it, the UK hasn’t been doing well at Eurovision in the last few years. We’ve thrown Bonnie Tyler, Englebert Humperdink, and Jemini at Europe… and they’re responded with Russian grannies, Finnish monsters and sleek club anthems.

It wasn’t always like this. We’re actually one of the most successful Eurovision countries ever. We’ve won five times, come second fifteen times, and until 1998 we only ever finished outside the top ten twice! I’m not sure what went wrong. It seems at some point we decided we weren’t even going to try. We only scored a measly five points last year — poor Jemini.

Nul points for the UK on tackling tax dodging

But however badly we do at Eurovision, we’re scoring much worse on tackling tax dodging. Just like with Eurovision, the UK needs to be Making its Mind Up — will we win or lose on tackling tax dodging? 

It’s estimated that developing countries lose US$200 billion each year to corporate tax avoidance. A major way big companies lower their tax bills is by taking advantage of unfair tax treaties — agreements between countries that divide up where companies should pay tax.

Eurovision graphic

These treaties often mean companies don’t pay their fair share of tax in developing countries, and women and girls living in poverty pay the price, as key public services like schools and hospitals are starved of funding. We ranked how many unfair tax treaties European countries have with developing countries and the UK comes bottom of the table — with the highest number of restrictive tax treaties with developing countries — agreements that put huge restrictions on how much these countries can tax UK companies operating there.

Take action to boost the UK’s score

So what does Eurovision have to do with tackling tax avoidance? The UK scores badly on both. Hopefully we’ll do better at Eurovision this year (although having seen Joe and Jake, I don’t fancy our chances), but either way, we can definitely do better on tackling tax dodging. We want the UK to start by sorting out its treaty with Malawi — the world’s poorest country. This tax treaty is so old it was negotiated in colonial times, and it repeatedly bans Malawi from taxing money UK companies move out of the country. 

Since we launched our campaign in February, we’ve been working with ActionAid Malawi and lots of Malawian activists, some pictured above, to push both our governments to come back to the negotiating table. We’ve made great progress, and talks to update the treaty are underway. Now we need to keep the pressure up to make sure the new treaty is fair — you can by adding your voice to sign our petition.

Sign the petition to help make tax fair in Malawi

Photo credits: Jonathan Khoo/Creative commons, ActionAid, ActionAid Malawi