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Africa/Global: Tax Justice & Inequality

AfricaFocus Bulletin
June 2, 2015 (150602)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The prevailing international tax rules and practices, as well as the failure of governments to cooperate on international tax matters, continue to undermine the ability of governments in the Global South and the North to ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes. ... At the same time, many governments themselves act in the interest of corporations, liberally providing tax incentives and signing tax treaties that enable huge outflows of public revenues. As a result, ordinary people all over the world carry a disproportionately heavy burden of raising tax revenues -- while public services lack adequate resources to meet the needs of citizens." - World Social Forum, 2015

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a statement from the World Social Forum in Tunis in March 2015, outlining the concept of "tax justice" as central to fighting economic inequality both within and between countries in both the Global North and Global South.

"Tax justice," in the sense of "corporations and wealthy individuals paying their fair share of taxes," cannot of course fully "end inequality," as the headline to this document might be taken to imply. But there is no doubt that it is an essential component of any progressive agenda for checking inequality and promoting basic economic and social rights for all.

This sets a broader context for the phenomenon of "illicit financial flows," which has rightly gained increasing prominence in debates about African development, most recently through the release and endorsement of the Mbeki report by the African Union in February this year (http://www.africafocus.org/docs15/iff1502.php). If these flows, defined by the Mbeki report and by Global Financial Integrity as funds that are illegally earned, transferred, or used, were to be available in Africa, and taxed for development, this would be a massive contribution to progress for the continent.

Civil society organizations in Africa and around the world, however, point out that an exclusive focus on these clearly illegal transfers must be put in the broader context of other mechanisms which may be technically legal but illicit in the sense of illegitimate and contrary to social justice. Likewise, the borderline between "tax evasion" (illegal) and "tax avoidance" (legal but often illegitimate) is constantly changing as lawyers, accountants, and politicians collaborate in changing laws and their interpretations to the benefit of the rich and powerful.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not distributed by email, but available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs15/tax1506b.php, includes two additional background documents, one an overview on Financing for Development from the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network, and two others from Third World Network-Africa, stressing the need to put the Mbeki report's concept of "illicit financial flows" conceived narrowly as those explicitly violating the law into a broader context of other mechanisms of capital flight that may be legal but equally damaging and illegitimate.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on tax justice, illicit financial flows, and related topics, visit http://www.africafocus.org/intro-iff.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Tax justice to end inequality: World Social Forum 2015 Declaration

http://www.globaltaxjustice.org/ - direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/pmbym3a

pdf at http://www.eurodad.org/files/pdf/551bebd39bcc7.pdf

The prevailing international tax rules and practices, as well as the failure of governments to cooperate on international tax matters, continue to undermine the ability of governments in the Global South and the North to ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes. The recent "Luxembourg Leaks" has confirmed that multinationals continue to dodge taxes with impunity. This is the latest in a long list of corporate tax scandals involving major brand names including Glencore, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Caterpillar, Deutsche Bank, Zara, McDonald's, Associated British Foods and many more. Similarly, the recent 'Swiss Leaks' has revealed that wealthy individuals hide untaxed fortunes in hidden Swiss bank accounts.

At the same time, many governments themselves act in the interest of corporations, liberally providing tax incentives and signing tax treaties that enable huge outflows of public revenues. As a result, ordinary people all over the world carry a disproportionately heavy burden of raising tax revenues -- while public services lack adequate resources to meet the needs of citizens. The continuing imposition of austerity measures and the increasing debt burden aggravate poverty and inequality within and between countries, making the need for tax justice more urgent than ever. Meanwhile, governments are compensating for the lack of available public funding in various ways such as incurring more debt and by entering into risky public-private partnerships with the very same multinational corporations that are dodging taxation. Privatization of vital social services, where profit principally drives service delivery and overrides basic human needs, is rationalized by the need to raise domestic revenues.

Instead of cooperating to solve the problems, the world's governments continue to invent new tax incentives for multinational corporations and wealthy individuals as part of a global race-to-the bottom. Meanwhile, rigged global tax rules fail to protect the tax bases of the world's poorest nations against erosion driven by international tax dodging. These global rules, which undermine global cooperation and ignore the interests of the poorest, continue to be negotiated and decided in closed forums of rich nations.

Continuing the tradition of the World Social Forum, which at the WSF in Porto Alegre in 2002 issued a "Universal Declaration on the right to tax justice as a component part of social justice," and at the WSF in Tunis in 2013 issued a declaration on "Tax Justice for Social Justice," we demand the following from our governments:

International cooperation for global solutions

  • Establish an inclusive and well-resourced intergovernmental body on tax matters under the auspices of the UN, which can initiate and lead negotiations on a new UN framework convention on international cooperation in tax matters as a first step in the reform of international tax rules.

Automatic information exchange and tax transparency for multinational corporations

  • Adopt a common UN standard of multilateral, automatic exchange of tax information with the option of non-reciprocal information exchange for countries with low capacity.
  • Eliminate secrecy of beneficial ownership worldwide through public registers of beneficial owners.
  • Ensure financial transparency by implementing annual public country-by-country reporting by multinational corporations.
  • Ensure that tax administrations are well resourced.

Progressive tax policies to tackle inequality within countries

  • Reduce inequality by adopting a full range of progressive taxation measures. Tax policy design and implementation must actively seek to reduce income and gender inequality.
  • Make it the highest priority commitment to invest tax funds in the vital human development related public services and public infrastructure (e.g., health, education, water, housing, sanitation, transportation), sustainable development, adequate social protection floors and to reverse climate change.
  • Provide the means for citizens to make their voices heard and hold governments accountable on their tax policy and how revenue raised is spent.
  • Ensure fiscal policies are gender sensitive. This should include assessing and tracking the impact of regressive taxes, such as VAT, and the tax burden, and implementing measures to shift the burden away from poor women and men.
  • Adopt and implement a financial transactions tax.

Fair international tax rules that make multinationals pay their share

  • Ensure the review of Double Taxation Agreements to bring them fully in line with sustainable development and financing for development needs and agenda.
  • Develop solid alternatives to the dysfunctional Arm's Length Principle.
  • Remove policies and treaties that erode the tax base of other countries.

To promote the tax justice agenda, we commit ourselves to:

  1. Continue and strengthen our advocacy and campaign to influence and increase the pressure on decision makers for tax justice. This includes public mobilization and political advocacy to ensure our government leaders deliver vital tax justice decisions in the UN Financing for Development summit in Addis Ababa this July and beyond.
  2. Enhance our efforts to create strong social movements locally and globally to force governments and challenge multinationals to end tax dodging. This includes new campaigns to make multinational corporations pay their share of taxes. We will march this May Day under the banner "Working people pay taxes -- corporations must pay their share" and mobilize across civil society for global tax justice action days, including this June 23, World Public Services Day.
  3. Promote gender justice as a key element of tax justice. This includes engaging at the national level to challenge discriminatory tax laws and ensure that tax policies recognize the invisible and unpaid care work of women.
  4. Advance tax justice as a means to deliver climate justice by generating financing, including for adaptation and mitigation.
  5. Work together to transform the current economic system that privileges corporations and the wealthy, drives inequality and hurts our environment. Our vision entails progressive redistributive taxation polices that fund the vital public services, end inequality and poverty, address climate change and lead to sustainable development.

We welcome that Global Alliance for Tax Justice, owned and driven by major regional networks in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe, has invited wide civil society engagement and pledged at this World Social Forum in Tunis 2015 to collaborate and build global synergy for advocacy and campaigns and peoples' mobilizations for tax justice.


Global Alliance for Tax Justice

http://www.globaltaxjustice.org/about-us/

The Global Alliance for Tax Justice is a growing movement of civil society organisations and activists, including trade unions, united in campaigning for greater transparency, democratic oversight and redistribution of wealth in national and global tax systems.

We comprise the five regional networks of Africa, Latin America, Asia-Australia, North America and Europe, which collectively represent hundreds of organisations.

How to join:

If you or your organisation would like to get involved in the global fight for tax justice, please contact the co-ordinators of the movement in your region (see list below).

Our members:

Asian-Australian Tax Justice Network (hosted by Jubilee South) http://www.apmdd.org/

Red de Justicia Fiscal de America Latina y el Caribe http://www.justiciafiscal.org/

Tax Justice Network Africa http://www.taxjusticeafrica.net/

Tax Justice Europe (hosted by Eurodad)
http://www.eurodad.org/sites/tax

Tax Justice North America The FACT Coalition ( http://thefactcoalition.org/coalition-members-and-supporters/); Tax Justice Network-USA (http://www.tjn-usa.org/); Canadians for Tax Fairness (http://www.taxfairness.ca/)

Committed partners:

ActionAid International, ActionAid UK, Christian Aid, Christian Aid UK, Education International, Oxfam GB, Oxfam International, Oxfam Novib, Public Services International

We've joined together because:

Wealthy people, banks and multinational corporations have built a sophisticated system of secretive international financial centres (or tax havens) supported by armies of accountants, lawyers and lobbyists, in order to deliberately pay less and less tax on their profits and wealth. Yet, this elite group is entirely dependent on publicly-funded infrastructure and institutions and publiclyeducated workforces to make their money.

Such systemic tax avoidance (both legal and illegal) has led ordinary people to lose out as wealth flows outwards from the public and into the private hands of the few. This distorts economies, undermines democracy and deprives people of the vital public services we need to live.

Now is the time

  • There's a huge need for fair tax revenues to reverse growing inequality, to combat poverty and to invest in public services, sustainable development and addressing climate change.
  • There's a massive opportunity to make progress in reforming the rules when we work together across borders and organisations.
  • Our vision is of a world where fair and progressive tax policies support people to: - share in local and global prosperity - access the public services and social protections needed to fulfill their human rights - benefit from economies that work in the long-term interests of people and our environment

Our aims are to:

  • Affirm the role and obligation of governments to implement progressive and distributive tax policies
  • Mobilise domestic resources for public services and other vital government functions
  • Strengthen state accountability and the social contract
  • Reduce state dependence on aid and debt financing
  • Correct the power imbalance between citizens and multinational corporations

We do this by:

  • Exposing the negative impact of tax injustices on ordinary people and our families around the world -- from the South to the North
  • Taking transformative actions and campaigning for solutions to end tax injustices
  • Building a global movement to increase awareness and solidarity around tax justice issues

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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