Fair Tax Mark's "Historic" event
Guest blog: Meesha Nehru on the Fair Tax Mark conference
Last week we held the first Fair Tax Mark conference. The event brought together campaigners, business leaders and politicians to talk about the burning issues of the day.
We’re still buoyant from all the positive energy created by bringing so many people from the Fair Tax movement together, as Ed Mayo, General Secretary of Co-ops UK said, it was an "historic day".
We had a packed schedule of fantastic contributions ranging from NGOs to FTSE 100 companies. With so many headline acts, it was no wonder Paul Monaghan of Fair Tax kicked off proceedings by dubbing the day "the Glastonbury of tax" – we even had a true tax rock-star on stage, Margaret Hodge, MP.
The veteran tax campaigner delivered a barnstorming speech about her time as the head of the Public Accounts Committee, recounting the way in which she took on giants such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks and forced them to reveal how they avoided paying billions in corporation tax.
Her talk urged civil society to keep up its work campaigning "to keep the tax nerve raw" and to express the very real public anger on the issue, as well as stating firmly, that “tackling tax avoidance is not an anti-business agenda it’s a pro-fairness agenda”.
Business leaders for fair tax
The other headliners of the day were the superstar businesses who are leading by example and championing Fair Tax. Out of the 20 plus businesses now engaged with the Mark, we heard from
- Ben Reid, CEO of Midcounties Cooperative,
- Brendan Rennet, finance Director of SSE, and
- Matthew Bloch, Managing Director of Bytemark Hosting.
We learned that whilst these businesses had to take some "brave pills" to help them put their heads above the parapet – signing up to the Mark actually makes perfect business sense.
They sent a clear message that doing the right thing with tax not only pays for the vital services a business needs to flourish but plays well with customers, employees and the wider community. Sudip Hazra of investement analysts Kepler Cheuvreux added that it's also becoming important to growing numbers of shareholders who are concerned about the risks associated with tax avoidance.
As Brendan Rennet said, a business paying its fair share is a question of first principles “its about our legitimacy in the society that allows us to exist…”.
The case for reform
The conference also addressed the wider need for reform of the rules governing taxation. James Bowler, Head of Tax at HM Treasury, outlined the progress the government has made in closing loopholes, making new rules such as GAAR and DOTAS and taking a lead on transparency. But he also stressed that tax avoidance is not a problem for the UK alone and that international processes, such as the OECD’s BEPS process are key to the solution.
What more needs to be done?
We heard from:
- Jenny Ricks, Head of Campaign of Action Aid and co-ordinator of the recent Tax Dodging Bill campaign
- Simon Bowers of the Guardian, one of the first journalists to break stories on tax avoidance,
- Richard Murphy, tax justice campaigner and technical director of the Fair Tax Mark
Each participant welcomed, to different degrees, the steps towards reform taken both by the UK government and the OECDs Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan. However it was argued that they’re not going far enough to stop the devastating impact of tax avoidance on developing countries, nor were they living up to the initial promise of greater corporate transparency in the form of public country-by-country reporting.
Country-by-country reporting is a key measure that will allow citizens to hold both companies and tax authorities to account. This idea was even backed by Jane McCormick, Head of Tax at accountancy firm KPMG. In addition Jane acknowledged that big business was being forced to change its way because of civil society pressure.
However, new laws are no good without the means to implement them and Cathy Cross, National Campaigns Officer at PCS, the union that represents the majority of workers at HMRC, finished the session with a sobering reminder that HMRC has been cut from nearly 100,000 staff in 2005 to around 50,000 today. “Cutting HMRC jobs is the economics of the madhouse not the economics of recovery,” she said.
The afternoon saw workshops held on:
- ‘Tax as a differentiator for co-operatives and social enterprises’ led by Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK,
- ‘Public perceptions of tax avoidance and the latest polling and analysis on tax’ from YouGov,
- ‘Responsible Tax Practice – presenting the latest research on what’s out there' from Matti Kohonen, Christian Aid & Kerry Stares, Action Aid
- ‘What next for the Fair Tax Mark’ led by Richard Murphy and Meesha Nehru
Final thoughts of the day were given by:
- Rob Harrison of Ethical Consumer who urged the crowd to get involved and become a member of Fair Tax Mark’s Community Benefit Society,
- Martin McEwen of SSE who called on other businesses to follow their lead in communicating their tax better to stakeholders,
- Toby Quantrill of Christian Aid, who evoked the parallels between Fair Tax and Fair Trade and stressed the need for the new standard to develop into a truly international movement.
- Frank Askew, of the ICAEW, who reaffirmed his institute was right behind initiatives such as the Fair Tax Mark and the Fair Tax Pledge and suggested that professionals need to step up to the plate more on these issues.
- Alex Cobham, Research Director at Tax Justice Network, and member of the Fair Tax technical team, who said that now business is leading the way, it’s up to all of us to take the Fair Tax Mark into our communities and help make it the recognised force it deserves to be.
Fair Tax Pledge
The event also saw the launch of our new initiative, the Fair Tax Pledge. This is a chance for individuals to make a public declaration that they’ll do the right thing when it comes to tax. Have you signed yet? Why not challenge your MP or another public to sign too?
Looking to the future
All in all, the conference was proof that we have come a long way in less than a year and half. As more and more businesses join the Fair Tax Mark movement, the stronger the message will get.
First published on the Fair Tax Mark site.
The Fair Tax Mark is a joint project between Ethical Consumer and Tax Research UK
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