Tax Campaign Wins (and why results aren’t always immediate)

Christian Aid
May 3, 2018 · 5 min read

Campaigner, Luke Harman, reflects on recent successes in the tax justice campaign and the need to persevere even when you don’t get immediate results

Sometimes it’s hard to know what impact our actions are having on the real world. For starters, how many of these statements apply to you?

· I signed a petition and nothing happened.

· I wrote to my MP and they sent me a nice letter back.

· I’ve bought nothing but Fairtrade tea for almost 2 decades, yet big brands still produce non-Fairtrade tea.

In a complex, interconnected world, solutions are rarely immediate and never simple. In her ever hopeful ‘long read’ Rebecca Solnit talks about some of the most important impacts of activism coming decades later.

Sometimes you might see the indirect impact of your actions 30 years down the line, sometimes you might not wait so long…

Tax breakthroughs

Christian Aid launches its tax campaign in 2010, highlighting the amount of money we then estimated was being lost by developing countries to tax dodging

In the last few weeks we’ve seen 2 major breakthroughs on tax justice, both coming years after you began campaigning on the issue.

The first was a commitment by the Vodafone to publish their profits made and taxes paid in every country — data which was previously shrouded in secrecy.

The second was a majority vote in the UK Parliament that could signal an end to secrecy in the UK tax havens once and for all.

Why is tax dodging such an issue?

Tax Dodging robs developing countries of between $100 billion and $300 billion every year* as estimated by the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund

These funds could be used to provide clean water, healthcare, education and many other essentials that we take for granted. And in developing countries, these services can make the difference between life and death.

Jesus calls us to be light in dark places, exposing what the darkness hides. Our challenge has been to lift the veil of secrecy in the international tax system, and in recent weeks we’ve taken some huge steps forward.

The UK tax havens

In May 2018, the UK Parliament agreed to publish full and transparent public registers of who owns what businesses registered in the British Overseas Territories (or UK tax havens.) This is a long long-awaited victory for tax justice campaigners. It wouldn’t have been possible without people like you.

Campaigners celebrating success in the campaign in 2015

But what does this mean?

The British Overseas Territories will, for the first time, be required to reveal the names of people who own companies registered there for public scrutiny. Meaning tax dodgers have fewer places to hide.

This is a major step forward in the fight against the tax avoidance, evasion and corruption that costs developing countries so dearly.

If the legislation is approved by the House of Lords, it will come into effect in 2021.

So, how did you win this campaign?

1. Your campaigning helped ensure that tax was top of the G8 agenda when world leaders met in Northern Ireland in 2013.

2. In August 2013, you started calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to fulfil the commitments of the G8 and leave tax dodgers nowhere to hide. More than 20,000 of you petitioned the government to introduce new laws that would create a public register of company ownership.

3. Campaigners also wrote their own responses to the government’s public consultation on the issue.

4. In 2015, Parliament passed new anti-secrecy laws to publish full and transparent public registers in the UK (but not yet the UK tax havens.)

5. Since then, you’ve kept the pressure on, calling for greater transparency in the tax system at opportune moments such as the release of the Panama Papers, giving legitimacy and support to politicians (and our own Parliamentary team) pushing this issue in Parliament.

Campaigners keep up the pressure on the UK Government when the ministers of the overseas territories visited in 2016

And what about Vodafone?

Many of you were involved with Christian Aid between 2010–12, when together, we were campaigning for Vodafone be more transparent about the tax they were paying in developing countries.

Six years on, in April 2018, Vodafone published their 2016/17 annual report on a ‘country-by-country’ basis. This is precisely what we asked them to do all those years ago.

To all the thousands of people who campaigned to Vodafone, thank you, it paid off. The debate has moved on since 2010 and other campaigners have taken up the mantle, but you played a huge part and can join in taking credit for this progressive step.

So, what have Vodafone committed to?

This is bold step by Vodafone. By publishing their recent report on a ‘country-by-country’ basis, Vodafone will be providing critical information that will increase understanding of their tax affairs.

It should not only embolden other companies to follow their lead but should increase the pressure on the UK government to take the step of asking all UK registered companies to do the same.

Country by Country reporting is designed to provide a picture of a company’s global structure, broken down for every country that they operate in. When information on profit, revenue, taxes paid, and number of employees is available at the county level rather than just a single global figure it becomes possible to see where things don’t match up.

This kind of transparency will make it harder for big global companies to dodge the tax they owe on profits made in the countries where they operate. This means more revenue to provide more schools, more hospitals, more roads, better education and ultimately improve and save lives.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen two big wins in the tax campaign, but sometimes we can go months feeling like there’s little progress.

So whatever you’re campaigning on, remember you do make a difference, even if you don’t notice it straight away.

Could you play a role in our next campaigning success?

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