Tax dodge Britain

25 January 2009 - 11:00pm

The 41 principals of administrations and nations and scores of business chiefs meeting for the World Economic Forum must concede that the greed-based financial system that sparked the crisis demands radical change.

This new system must be founded on principles of public benefit, not private profit, achieved through democratic control and a redistribution of the fruits of globalisation.

Nothing pinpoints this need better than the call by trade union GMB for the directors of Britain's high street banks to pay back the £143 million in bonuses handed to them since 2003, when lenders' irresponsibility first emerged.

While he was European trade commissioner, Lord Mandelson tried to bully developing countries into disastrous trade deals threatening millions of jobs. Now, the Business Secretary rejects tax rises on the highest paid in our society as a litmus test of social justice.

Yet his new-found friend Gordon Brown is blocking progress on international co-operation over tax dodging which costs developing countries £250 billion a year in lost government revenue. Moreover, the Prime Minister has obstructed moves to introduce a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions which could raise billions each year for development.

The UK plays a major role in helping companies dodge the tax they owe. Many of the world's tax havens are British, whether overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and British Virgin Islands or crown dependencies including Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Britain also loses an estimated £100 billion a year through tax dodges. This is enough to double funding for its health service, to cover the full state pension, end student fees and enable Britain to reach the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income overnight.

War on Want will push the case for tax justice when our campaigners and tens of thousands of activists gather from Tuesday in the northern Brazilian city Belem, where the World Social Forum will present radical alternatives to the WEF.

It will lead talks on ways to tackle the economic crisis, secure trade justice, stop mining multinationals abusing the poor and resist Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine after its brutal attack on Gaza.

Decades of free trade prescriptions have not delivered the prosperity that was promised, but instead widened the divide between rich and poor people.

War on Want research due out in March will reveal that these policies have wrecked millions of livelihoods across continents. Politicians mouthing the same mantras in trade negotiations threaten deeper misery.

The drive for profits fuels multinational firms' race for natural resources in the global south.

Recent weeks have seen thousands of people in Ecuador stage nationwide protests over president Rafael Correa's move to lift a ban on large-scale mining, including hunger strikes by women in their seventies.

Foreign mining companies have found huge gold, silver and copper deposits in the country's southern region. Indian and environment groups fear big business exploitation will put the rush for profits before communities' needs.

British companies have been reaping massive rewards at the expense of the poor from mining in other Latin American states, including Colombia, Peru and Chile, as well as in Africa and Asia.

Global justice, job creation and the environment must all be addressed together.

War on Want is organising a British activist forum to do just that on February 28 and, on March 28, unions, development charities and environment groups will march in London for jobs, justice and the climate under the slogan "Put people first."

The G20 summit in London on April 2 must heed the calls for real change, not just tinker with markets to save a system based on inequalities.
West shares blame for Gaza shame

WHILE Gordon Brown vows to prevent Hamas smuggling rockets over borders, there is no sign that British ministers will stop licensing arms sales to Israel, such as components for fighter jets used to bomb Gaza.

This scandal continues despite the government's past admissions that UK military equipment licensed for sale to Israel could be used in attacks on Palestinian civilians

It also scorns the statement from UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories Richard Falk, who challenged the complicity of countries "knowingly providing the military equipment, including war planes and missiles, used in these illegal attacks."

War on Want welcomes the European Commission's recent decision to suspend steps to upgrade political and trade links with Israel. This decision mirrored international outrage over Israel's attacks on Gaza, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children.

Nonetheless, the commission must follow this action by stopping the upgrade process altogether and suspending the EU-Israel association agreement which already ensures preferential treatment for Israeli trade in Europe.

The new protocol of co-operation would allow far greater Israeli participation in European Community programmes. We oppose this step and the existing agreement, citing Israel's ongoing disdain for international law, with millions of Palestinians suffering human rights abuse and dire poverty in refugee camps or under occupation.

The world must compel Israel to meet its legal responsibilities. Article 2 of the association agreement makes Israel's trading preferences dependent on respect for human rights, a condition which Israel has breached.

Ruth Tanner is War on Want's campaigns and policy director


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