Paradise Papers one year on: Five ways to stop such tax scandals

Just one year ago, 13.4 million leaked files from offshore service providers and company registries were made public. This leak, known as the Paradise Papers, revealed the tax planning strategies of more than 100 multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple, as well as offshore activities by more than 120 politicians and world leaders.

Like always politicians were quick to react and promise reforms. But so far very little has happened. A new Paradise Papers is to be expected if no serious reforms are undertaken in the coming years. Just recently Zucman estimated that multinationals artificially shift almost half of their total overseas profits – 40 percent – to tax havens.

Tax dodging is fueling an inequality crisis where 82% of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth. When corporations and the super-rich dodge taxes, it is ordinary people, and especially the poorest, who pay the price as governments balance the budget by raising their taxes and cutting vital public services.

Poor countries are particularly hard hit by corporate tax dodging as they are twice as dependent on corporate tax revenues as rich countries.

Governments must take five immediate steps to stop corporations and the super-rich cheating poor countries out of over $100 billion in tax revenues every year.

Stopping the tax scandals won’t be easy but it is not impossible if the political will is there.

Oxfam's 5-point plan for tax justice

Oxfam’s five-point plan shows how governments can stop the tax scandals if they put the interests of the public over the demands of the super-rich and big business:

1. Agree a global blacklist of tax havens based on comprehensive objective criteria and take strong countermeasures including sanctions to limit their use. Governments have yet to agree an objective global list of tax havens.

A farcical OECD - G20 blacklist published in June 2017 features just Trinidad and Tobago. The more comprehensive European Union list, published last December, omits European tax havens such as the Netherlands and Ireland that have been key players in the Paradise Papers scandal.

2. Create a global tax body where all countries can work together on an equal footing to agree the fundamental tax reforms that are needed to ensure the tax system works for everyone.

International tax reforms have done little to prevent tax dodging in rich countries and even less in poor countries which were denied any real say in the reform process. Yet OECD and G20 member countries have blocked attempts by poor countries to create an independent tax body where all countries can work together to agree a second round of more fundamental reforms. This would include action to combat damaging tax competition.

3. Rebalance tax deals by making sure tax treaties do not exploit developing countries tax bases.

Poor countries often lose out from unfair tax agreements because they allow multinational companies to avoid paying tax in the country.  Yet, international tax reforms led by the G20 and OECD ignored this issue – in part because poor countries were denied any real say in the process.

4. End tax secrecy for the super-rich by establishing a centralized public register of the individuals who own and benefit from shell companies, trusts and foundations publicly available.

Many countries have established registers of ‘beneficial owners but few have made the information publicly available. This means poor countries are unable to access the information to identify tax dodgers.

5. End corporate tax secrecy by ensuring all multinational companies make financial reports publicly available for every country where they operate. 

The OECD initiative on country-by-country reporting falls well short of the mark as it does not cover all multinational corporations and it does not require companies to make their financial reports publicly available. This means poor countries are unable to access the information to identify tax cheats. 

Stronger European proposals on public country-by-country reporting, were due to be agreed this year, but are being blocked by EU member states such as Germany, Ireland, and Luxembourg.

This entry posted on 5 November 2018, by Johan Langerock, Oxfam's EU Policy Advisor for Tax and Inequality.

Map of the EU's blacklist of tax havens

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