People power has cracked the walls of tax secrecy – now we have to bring the walls down

by | Jun 18, 2013

end tax dodging

“But our actions are perfectly legal, and what you are calling for is completely unrealistic”, said the slave traders of the early Nineteenth Century. Campaigning by ordinary people defeated them. Fast forward two centuries and the tax dodging debate sees a similar clash.

Less than a year ago campaigners were castigated as dreamers for calling for an end to tax secrecy, tax trickery and the race to the bottom.  Were we being too radical? Have a look at these calls for action made to the G8:

“The trillions hidden in tax havens make urgent action essential. We need to stop the triple looting of poor countries – of their land, of their mineral resources, of the taxes they are due.”

“Remove tax incentives that encourage companies to shift profits around. Avoid tax competition turning into a lose-lose proposition. Identify the real people behind shell companies which facilitate the hiding of tax liabilities. Increase transparency around company ownership to help prosecute evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing.”

Can you guess which radical NGO made them? The first statement was made by the French Government. The second one by the US Government.

In the end, leaders are led, and the power of the people is stronger than the people in power. Can one intergovernmental meeting fix it? No.  But after this year of corporate scandal, popular mobilisation, media controversy, shuttle diplomacy, and leaders’ gatherings, no one representing a major government – no one – now says that campaigners’ ultimate aims are wrong. The power of (extra)ordinary people is winning the debate.

Because some good people stood outside coffee shops, visited their MP, sent emails, signed petitions, came to rallies, organised their faith groups and local communities, told their family and friends; because some good politicians put their populations before the plutocrats, asked tough questions and pushed for tougher laws; because some bold media exposed tax cheating; because brilliant wonks learnt to talk human; and because some absolutely hopeless company bosses helped fuel their own PR disasters …. because of all of these things we now have an unstoppable momentum to stop tax dodging.

People power has cracked the walls of tax secrecy. Now we have to bring the walls down.

The Battle of Jericho


  • Ben Phillips is Campaigns and Policy Director of ActionAid. Previously, he worked for Oxfam in the UK. He has lived and worked in four continents and 10 cities including New Delhi and Washington DC, as well as with children in poverty in East London. He began his development work at the grassroots, as a teacher and ANC activist living in Mamelodi township, South Africa, in 1994, just after the end of apartheid.

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