Taxing tales of corporate tax avoiders

Corporate tax dodgers cost developing countries an estimated £130bn every year, writes Natasha Adams of ActionAid UK.

Natasha Adams (centre) on the 'tax campaign' tour
Natasha Adams (centre) on the 'tax campaign' tour
Tackling this problem is fundamental to overcoming global poverty and injustice. That’s the whole reason the organisation I work for exists, and why I do my job.  

But to have any hope of impact, my team and I have to work very hard to keep the issue of tax dodgers in the mainstream. 

One way we do this is through high-profile corporate exposes showing how companies rig the system. What that means in simple terms is that ordinary people are forced to play by one set of rules while the powerful play by another. So telling the human stories to help people understand this is a key part of our campaigning strategy.

Take Marta Luttgrodt, a small shopkeeper in Ghana. She pays more tax than the huge multinational brewer with the factory next door to her and whose beer she sells. 

International tax structures are very complex and sometimes it’s a hard sell to make people understand. But by putting it in clear human terms we help people to understand it better.

And of course, persuading colleagues to dress up a giant beer bottle outside the firm’s HQ helped too. Constantly coming up with imaginative campaign tactics is essential.  Show Me the Money is our tax dodgers walking tour of Mayfair. 

We take journalists and interested members of the public on a walking tour past the offices of the UK corporates we’ve exposed.  

The tour has been a big campaign success, running for the past year and attracting hundreds of attendees and European-wide media coverage.

Within the past year we persuaded a major bank to stop marketing the benefits of tax havens as ‘the gateway’ to Africa for multinationals looking to invest on the continent. 

We also got more than 50 councils of all political stripes to pass motions calling for action to address tax dodging in the UK and developing countries. 

At the last general election we commissioned a poll that showed nine out of ten people from across the political spectrum said they thought tax avoidance by large corporations was morally wrong. 

This solid evidence of public opinion not only helped maintain the campaign’s public profile, it proves what we do matters. 

Two years ago, during the UK’s presidency of the G8, David Cameron made bold promises to tackle tax dodging. 

At a dinner for G20 finance ministers last week, George Osborne discussed the final plan for international reform. Sadly it falls far short of what is needed. 

The system needed major surgery. Instead we got a sticking plaster.  

Currently our campaign focus is shifting. 

We’re working towards the creation of a democratic body to start a much needed overhaul of the global tax system, but that’s a big job. 

In the meantime, we’re gearing up to launch a global campaign to end unfair tax treaties early next year.

There’s a lot of work to be done. But until the tax dodgers stop evading, we won’t stop talking about it.

Natasha Adams is the ‘tax campaign’ manager for ActionAid UK

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