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.
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Last year, the Paradise Papers laid bare the extent to which multinationals and extremely wealthy individuals exploit a broken global system. This system allows them to avoid paying their fair share of tax which contributes to poverty and inequality around the world. One year on, it is clear we still need to do more.
A lack of tax transparency allows multinational corporations to unfairly avoid paying billions in tax. That’s less revenue for vital public services and infrastructure. Last month we revealed shocking new evidence that four big drug companies - Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Abbott and Merck & Co. (also known as MSD)* appear to be using offshore tax havens to avoid paying billions of dollars in tax. NZ$21 million to be precise, just here in New Zealand.
Two and a half years ago I sat barricaded inside my home in Fiji, listening to a ferocious wind travelling at an average speed of 230 kilometres an hour. Over the howl of the wind I could hear trees crashing down outside. I didn’t know how long the storm was going to last. I didn’t know where the next tree would fall.
Last week, we revealed that it looks like New Zealand is losing $21 million a year to unfair tax avoidance by four big pharmaceutical companies – Abbott, Merck & Co. (also known as MSD), Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. Some of you may have seen comments about the way we conducted the research – our methodology. We’ve got a great blog about the methodology from our American colleagues who led the research. But we want to take a slightly different angle, because the comments about our method actually support what we are saying – that if we want an accurate picture of what companies earn and owe we need more publicly available information so that we can use more robust information.
When we at Oxfam set out to estimate the size and scope of the tax dodging by some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies for our new report, Prescription for Poverty, we had no idea it would take two years of painstaking research. Yet, because of pervasive secrecy in the tax system, we had to spend months working with local researchers to uncover even the most basic financial information about the company’s operations in countries around the world.
Iffat Tahmid Fatema, 28, is a humanitarian public health worker for Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh. "I started working for Oxfam last year at the height of the emergency when Rohingya refugees were arriving in huge numbers every day. At that time, I was toiling in a lab at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong pursuing my Master's degree in Bio Technology, but I knew I wanted to work with real people, face-to-face."
“I’ve been to Syria and seen it as a functioning society where there was everything we have here. There were shops, you could get ice cream – all the things we take for granted, they had too. I had a few people say, oh, they won’t know any different. But they do. And even if they didn’t, does that make it better or worse?”
Mausa Halala (pictured) is a volunteer with the Tonga National Youth Congress - Oxfam's local partner in Tonga. He and other volunteers, trained and equipped by Oxfam to provide emergency water supplies, were working within hours of the storm, purifying and distributing safe drinking water on Tongatapu and ‘Eua. Thanks to your ongoing support, they're still responding! Photo: Darren Brunk
The impending monsoon rains are bearing down on the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and there's no getting around it - it’s going to be a really tough time. I've just finished three weeks working for Oxfam's Rohingya crisis response team in Cox’s Bazar and can remember one moment, standing in the pouring rain in the Rohingya refugee ‘mega-camp’. Everywhere I looked, ramshackle shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins stretched into the distance.