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Giving tax dodgers nowhere to hide


It’s time to end phantom firms, writes Christian Aid's Al Roxburgh

On the ferry back from the Enough Food For Everyone IF rally in Belfast in June I remember being exhausted but pleased that all the campaigning on tax dodging had resulted in some positive moves from world leaders at the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland.

All UK backed tax havens committed to sign a convention that would help improve transparency and G8 leaders outlined their ambition to crack down on corporate tax dodging.  The next task is to hold them to their promises and make sure they back up their warm words with solid actions.

Back then David Cameron announced plans for a public registry of UK company owners so that it can be clearly seen who owns what and for whose benefit.  But there is concern that Cameron is thinking of backtracking and making the registry private which would undermine his positive words on tax transparency.

Christian Aid has launched a campaign to demand that this registry is made public so that tax authorities in developing countries can curb abuse and civil society organisations can hold Governments to account.  It makes no sense to have a registry to aid tax transparency and keep it a secret.

As John 3 verse 19-20 says: “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed”.

But it’s not just tax justice campaigners that want an end to company secrecy.  The public are in favour too.  Christian Aid recently commissioned ComRes to conduct a survey to find out public attitudes to tax dodging.

Some 84 per cent of those polled expressed anger at multinationals avoiding tax, up from 80 per cent in an earlier ComRes poll for Christian Aid in February this year. The majority of respondents, 57 per cent, believe that company owners should not be allowed to keep their identities secret and only  nine per cent said company owners had a right to privacy.

Phantom firms are like Russian dolls. Who really owns them is often a mystery and this secrecy allows criminals to pay bribes and evade tax, especially in developing countries which lose more than $160 billion a year in dodged taxes.

The IF campaign achieved a great deal but the hard part is holding politicians to account and delivering on their promises.  We need to give them every reason to do the right thing and show them the British public want them to act.

Please sign our petition calling on business secretary Vince Cable to ensure public registers are created which reveal who owns what, where, and for whose benefit at www.christianaid.org.uk/phantomfirms

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