CEO Blog

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Europe’s shame: Hundreds more lives lost at sea exactly 1 year on from Lampedusa tragedy

One year to the day after 800 people drowned off the Italian island Lampedusa, news of another awful tragedy in the Mediterranean has emerged.

Reports of hundreds dead after four boats capsized underline how Europe is still failing to deal effectively with the migration crisis in a way that puts human lives first.

Today Oxfam published a new report ('EU hotspots spread fear and doubt’) which found that vulnerable people seeking safety and dignity remain at risk of death, torture and exploitation as they try to reach and cross the Mediterranean.

The EU’s response to the Lampedusa drownings this day last year and the Mediterranean crisis as a whole has yielded successive emergency summits, beefing up Europe’s border security and bringing in a ‘hotspot’ plan for Italy and Greece where asylum claims are expedited with a focus on swift rejections. 

Three hotspots have been functioning in Sicily since September 2015, but the European and Italian authorities in charge of them have yet to agree a clear legal framework for how they are to operate. This leaves a serious gap in clarity on how this system is ensuring respect for Italian, European and international law. The Italian parliament was challenged on this – with no response forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the system has failed to protect the numbers of people willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves and their families. Desperate and often already traumatised by what they are leaving behind, they face further anguish, fear and brutality on their journey to safety.

According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, migrants detained in the country face torture, beatings and forced labour. Recently four migrants were shot dead and 20 wounded while trying to escape a detention centre. These are innocent civilians – mothers, grandparents and teenagers who simply want a better life, free from conflict and poverty.

Filsim, a 22-year-old woman who travelled alone from Somalia to Italy, said: “I spent eight months in Libya. We were imprisoned by a gang of traffickers when we arrived in the country. They would leave us for two or three days without food and water, and they beat us for fun. I have so many scars on my breast.”

Filsim was finally released when her family managed to pay an US$800 (approx. €710/£560) ransom to the traffickers. She then had to pay US$1,000 (approx. €885/£700) for the trip to Italy.

The crossing between Libya and Italy is the deadliest sea route in the world and the death toll for 2016 had before today already reached 219 people with nearly 10,000 people attempting to use this route to reach Europe in March alone. Total arrivals to Italy in the first quarter of 2016 are almost double the number of arrivals in the same period in 2015. This proves that the policies of deterrence adopted by the EU do not work.

A woman and child arrive in Lesbos, Greece. Desperately seeking safety and refuge in a new country, some are lucky enough to get to beaches where they face volunteer groups across Europe, others are not so lucky. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Many of those who survive the journey face a legal limbo once in Europe. The expedited approach of the hotspots is yielding faster decisions and more expulsions, but as a result many people are being shut out of the asylum system, left stranded and even more vulnerable.

Bakari, from Gambia, said: “After two days, they gave us the paper [the expulsion order to return] and they put us out on the street without any explanation. There were seven of us, and we slept at the train station in Catania for three months.”

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, fear often prevents migrants from seeking help and means that those responsible for exploiting migrants can act with impunity – with women left particularly vulnerable to abuse – while people who seek to assist undocumented migrants can face criminal charges.

By failing to provide safe and legal passage, Europe has acted shamefully – putting political interests before human beings. 

Only by providing routes for people to reach Europe that are safe, legal and humane can we prevent further loss of life like today’s tragedy. 

Jim Clarken is CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

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#PanamaPapers: Death and taxes

The only two certainties we have are death and taxes, so the saying goes.

The Panama Papers released this week by the ICIJ show the enormous lengths people will go to in order to evade or avoid paying taxes. But they don’t show the serious impact of such actions — which can literally mean death for some.

A story which emerged from Cameroon last month illustrates this in the most tragic way. Monique Koumate (31) was expecting twins. Her partner took her to hospital when she went into labour and started experiencing complications. But because they didn’t have the money to pay the fees required, she was reportedly left outside the maternity unit in the city of Douala for hours, in desperate need of urgent care, the door closed to her.

Top-left:Front page reports from Cameroon of Monique Koumate's tragic death. "Lanquinitinie Hospital: Horrifying!",  "Woman, twins abandoned to die during delivery". Top-right: People in Cameroon took to social media to pay their respects and express their horror at Monique's death. Botom: Protestors hold banners saying "Never again a Monique Koumate in my country!" Photo credits, clockwise from top: 237online.com, CulturEbene, Simonoteba.com, TheObserveres.France24.com, CameroonOnline.org, camer.be/obesso.net. 

Monique’s family did their best to help her — a graphic video shows a woman reported to be her niece trying to perform a caesarean section using a knife — but one twin was stillborn and the other died moments after birth. Monique also died on the steps of the maternity unit — three lives lost feet away from the medical attention they needed but could not afford.

Cameroon has a severe shortage of doctors, just one for every 5,000 people. The government introduced a fee-based system for healthcare in a bid to bridge a funding gap and make services more widely available.

Illicit financial flows out of Cameroon are 63% of the country’s health budget and the equivalent of its entire foreign direct investment and aid each year.

VIDEO: PROTEST FOR MONIQUE KOUMATE, MARCH 13 2016

MANIFESTATION A LAQUINTINIE

MANIFESTATION DEVANT L'HOPITAL LAQUINTINIESE TAIRE, NE RIEN FAIRE, ETRE NEUTRE EST PIRE QUE CRIMINEL!RAPPEL DES FAITS:Une femme qui décède devant un hôpital faute de moyen. Arrivée à l’hôpital les médecins refusent de la prendre en charge parce qu'elle n'a pas d'argent.. Chose surprenante ce sont ses soeur qui ouvrent son ventre avec une lame rasoir pour essayer de sauver les bébés. Quel images pour le Cameroun .Les bébés sont-ils vivant ? ......Malheureusement aux dernières nouvelles ils ont aussi perdus la vie grâce à ceux qui ont prêter serment de sauver des vies humaines. .Que c'est pathétique pour les hôpitaux du CamerounQuel sadisme et méchanceté au point de laissé mourir 02 bébés innocent. ..Une plainte doit être déposer contre cette instance criminelle sur cet acte de non assistance à personnes en danger et de plus pire encore des bébés. ..Que la communauté internationale sur le programme de la santé saisisse cet affaire qui ne doit rester sans suite afin que justice soit faite pour ces bébés innocent. ..ceci pour en sauver d'autres qui peuvent subir le même sortMAINTENANT PLACE A LA MANIPULATION :Faites Attention! Les agents de manipulation de l’opinion nationale et internationale sont deja en marche. Une premiere tentative de manipulation qu’ils essayent de faire passer est de dire que Monique et ses bebe étaient deja décédés avant d’arriver a Laquintinie (Dites meme qu’ils sont morts 4 jours avant). Une autre tentative de manipulation veut faire croire q l’opinion que la courageuse soeur de monique serait l principale responsable du drame ceci juste pour dédouaner les médecins et infirmiers principaux responsables de ce drame.

Posted by Vert Rouge Jaune on Sunday, March 13, 2016

The day after the video of Monique Koumate's death was published, several hundred people gathered in front of the hospital where she died to protest at Cameroon’s failing healthcare system. Source: Vert Rougue Jaune/Facebook

Every single year, poor countries lose around €150bn/£119bn due to tax dodging by wealthy individuals and companies. This is money that should be used to fund schools, hospitals, homes and infrastructure.

INEQUALITY IS OUT OF CONTROL

It’s part of the bigger and growing problem of economic inequality. An Oxfam report published in January showed that just 62 people own as much net wealth as the poorer half the world’s population — approximately €1.62tn/£1.25tn.

Think about that for a moment: the number of people who could probably comfortably fit inside your local pub, own as much as 3.6bn people do.

Our economic system is skewed in favour of the wealthiest. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate.

One of the trends underlying this concentration of wealth and income is the return to capital versus labour. In almost all rich countries and in most developing countries, the share of national income going to workers has been falling. This means workers are capturing less and less of the gains from growth.

In contrast, the owners of capital have seen it consistently grow (through interest payments, dividends, or retained profits) faster than the rate the economy has been growing.

Tax avoidance by the owners of capital, and governments reducing taxes on capital gains, have further added to these returns.

Thanks to the recent revelations and previous investigations such as Lux Leaks, public awareness — and frustration — has increased dramatically. Ahead of the Irish general election in March, an Oxfam Ireland survey conducted nationwide found that 82% of people agreed that measures to specifically address tax-dodging needed to be a priority for the incoming government and Taoiseach.

The survey also showed growing concern in relation to large-scale tax dodging with 86% of Irish people holding the belief that big companies and wealthy individuals are using tax loopholes to dodge paying their fair share.

All governments, rich and poor, have to work together to tackle the inequality so clearly illustrated by the Panama Papers because it is their citizens who are the biggest losers. They need to fix the system and penalise banks and any others who facilitate tax-dodging.

Real transparency is needed — establishing public registers of the beneficial owners of all companies, foundations and trusts (so governments know who really owns and benefits from them and can tax them accordingly).

We also need to know where companies really make their profits and where they are paying their taxes. This would allow countries to fairly tax multinationals where their profits are. To achieve this, a simple solution is on the table.

Country-by-country reporting, as it is called in tax jargon, would require multinational companies to publish this information. Some countries, including Ireland, say they’ll implement it, but the information won’t be made public.

This is a crucial flaw — because if the information remains confidential between tax authorities, the public and civil society won’t be able to hold multinationals to account for their tax practices — and developing countries won’t be able to scrutinise the global tax arrangements of multinationals in their territory.

As political leaders in Ireland continue to engage in discussions on government formation, the measures Ireland can take to assist in the reform of the global tax system should be part of the agreement of any progressive Programme for Government. The human cost of doing anything else is simply too high.

Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. This article was first published by The Irish Examiner.

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Panama Papers and the human cost of tax dodging

Imagine sharing your home with a housemate who raids your section of the fridge, frequently ‘borrows’ your things without telling you and doesn’t make any effort to clean or maintain the shared living space. A housemate who can well afford to pay their way – but doesn’t contribute their fair share towards the bills.

That’s how putting up with tax dodgers feels. It leaves the vast majority of people, i.e. ordinary tax-payers, making up the shortfall left by those who can most afford to pay it but don’t. Tax dodging also hurts the most vulnerable in society who can’t access quality public services as a result.

As details emerge from the Panama Papers exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a spotlight has been shone on tax dodging by wealthy individuals the world over.

It’s the latest major investigation into tax dodging by the worldwide organisation of reporters following LuxLeaks in 2014 and Swissleaks last year.

Panama Papers is a rare glimpse into a toxic global tax system where wealthy individuals, who in a progressive tax system should be paying the most in tax, have the biggest incentives to exploit this weak architecture to avoid paying their fair share.

Their names are in the news. But the names of those most harmed by tax dodging are not. As long as tax dodging continues to drain government coffers the world over, there is a human cost with less to spend on vital public services and the resources needed to tackle poverty, put children in school and prevent citizens dying from lack of healthcare.

Every single year, poor countries lose approx. €150 billion/£119 billion due to tax dodging by wealthy individuals and companies.

Outside a hospital in Malawi, parents and their babies sit on the ground in the long queues.

Public health facilities in Malawi are free at the point of use, meaning they are not as regressive as is the case in many countries in Africa where fees are charged (making them out of reach for the poorest). But persistent shortages of medicines and staff mean that these facilities often provide a very poor quality service, despite the best efforts of their few heroic health workers.

As a nurse, I love my job and I love helping people,” says Vitumbiko Mhango who works at the Kamuzu Central Hospital and Bwaila maternity clinic.

Inequality in Malawi

“A shortage of staff is really impacting on our delivery of services. Patients have to wait very long for many hours just to be attended to. It makes me feel sad because as a nurse I feel I’m failing my job.”

Malawi has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, but the gains of this growth have not been spread evenly and the gap between rich and poor has widened at an alarming pace. Today, half of all Malawians live in poverty.

We have calculated that the lost tax revenue from the money revealed to be held by Malawians in HSBC accounts in Geneva – as revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in their SwissLeaks exposé in 2015 – could pay the salaries of 800 nurses for one year.

When taxes go unpaid due to widespread avoidance by wealthy individuals and companies, government budgets feel the pinch – the coffers are drained when it comes to investing in healthcare, schools and infrastructure. But universal and affordable public services are vital to lifting people out of poverty and it is the poorest, unable to afford ‘to go private’ who suffer the most when they are not provided by the state.

There is no getting away from the fact that the big winners in our global economy are those at the top and the gap between them and the rest of society is widening. Earlier this year, our research showed that just 62 billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest half of the population – so few they would fit onto a coach from Belfast to Dublin.

This elite group has become more exclusive over the years – falling from 80 members last year and 388 as recently as 2010. Our economic system is heavily skewed in the favour of the wealthiest, and arguably increasingly so. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate. Once there, ever more elaborate tax dodging and an industry of wealth managers ensure that it stays there, far from the reach of ordinary citizens and their governments.

All governments, rich and poor, must work to end tax dodging because it is their citizens – their electorate – who are the biggest losers. They need to fix the system and penalise banks and any others who facilitate tax dodging.

Ahead of the Irish general election in March, an Oxfam Ireland survey conducted nationwide found that 82% of people agreed that measures to specifically address tax dodging needed to be a priority for the incoming government and Taoiseach. The survey also showed growing concern in relation to large-scale tax dodging with 86% of Irish people believing that big companies and wealthy individuals are using tax loopholes to dodge paying their fair share of taxes.

The global tax system clearly does not serve the citizens of the world and this must change. Real transparency is needed – for example, establishing public registers of the beneficial owners of all companies, foundations and trusts (so governments know who really owns and benefits from them and can tax them accordingly).

We also need to know where companies really make their profits and where they are paying their taxes. This would allow countries to fairly tax multinationals where their profits are. To achieve this, a simple solution is on the table.

Country-by-country reporting, as it is called in tax jargon, would require multinational companies to publish exactly this information. Some countries including Ireland have said they will implement it but this information won’t be made public. This is a crucial flaw – because if the information remains confidential between tax authorities, the public and civil society won’t be able to hold multinationals to account for their tax practices – and developing countries won’t be able to scrutinise the global tax arrangements of multinationals operating in their territory.

As political leaders in Ireland continue to engage in discussions on government formation, the measures Ireland can take to assist in the reform of the global tax system should be part of the agreement of any progressive Programme for Government.

Jim Clarken is CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

(Published 3 April 2016)

Listen back to Jim Clarken's interview on the Panama Papers on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, 4 April 2016.

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Did you hear the one about 62 billionaires with the same wealth as half the world?

 
When one talks about 62 billionaires on a bus with the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population, it may sound like the start of a surreal joke – a bad one, with no punchlines and no laughs, except for the privileged few. 
 
That’s because the world has become a much more unequal place and the speed of the runaway inequality bus is accelerating. 
 
Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, and in September agreed a global goal to reduce it, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months. 
 
We now have a world where 62 people – so few they would fit on a single coach – own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population. This number has fallen from 80 last year and 388 as recently as 2010.
 
 
Above: Faith is a banana farmer in Zambia, where she struggles to make ends meet. Zambia is among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, yet despite economic growth, inequality is getting worse and most of the population are not seeing the benefits of this economic development. The number of people living below the $1.25 poverty line grew from 65 percent in 2003 to 74.5 percent in 2014. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
The wealth of the richest 62 has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion (approximately €1.62/£1.22tr.). Meanwhile, the wealth of the poorer half of the world has fallen dramatically by 41% since 2010, despite the global population increasing by around 400 million people during that period.
 
These shocking statistics are highlighted in a new Oxfam report, An Economy for the 1%, which has been published ahead of this week’s annual gathering of the world’s financial and political elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
 
Oxfam’s prediction – made ahead of last year’s Davos – that the 1% would soon own more than the rest of us by 2016, actually came true in 2015, a year earlier than expected.
 
 
 
Above: Faith outside her house. Faith lives with her husband Jackson and six children (her two daughters, granddaughter, two nephews, and niece) in Chiawa, Zambia. It’s a rural area with few transport links, health centres, and employment opportunities. One of the reasons inequality in Zambia is so bad is because global tax rules allow multinational mining companies to generate vast profits from their operations in the country, whilst paying very little tax. Lost revenue is desperately needed to improve infrastructure and invest in public services. Oxfam’s research has shown that this is one of the most effective ways of tackling extreme inequality. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Poorer people are paying the price of rapidly increasing inequality. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate. 
 
Rather than an economy that works for the prosperity of all, we have instead created a global economy for the 1%. Ordinary working families are up against odds that are impossible to beat. The big winners are those at the top and our economic system is heavily skewed in their favour. 
 
Power and privilege allows the richest individuals and companies to write the rules of the economic game to avoid paying their fair share to society. An elaborate system of tax loopholes and an industry of wealth managers ensures that vast wealth stays untaxed, far from the reach of ordinary citizens and their governments. 
 
This potential tax revenue is needed to pay for vital services like schools and hospitals; the services which play a vital role in tackling inequality and escaping poverty. It means governments keep putting their hands in the pockets of ordinary taxpayers to pay for the shortfall – many of whom can least afford it.
 
 
Above: “I only manage through survival. It’s just survival,” says Barbara Chinyeu, an Oxfam-supported banana farmer in Zambia, pictured with her children 10-year-old Gertrude and Edward, aged 5. Barbara is a widow who risks her life every day by gathering water in a crocodile-infested river so she can to irrigate her crops and feed her two children. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Oxfam analysed more than 200 companies, including the world’s biggest and the World Economic Forum’s strategic partners, and has found that 9 out of 10 companies analysed have a presence in at least one of 10 jurisdictions classified by the report as the most aggressive for tax avoidance, a list that includes Ireland.
 
It is estimated that tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries at least $100billion every year. Globally, it is estimated that a total of $7.6tr of individuals’ wealth sits offshore (i.e. is deposited in low-tax jurisdictions) – a twelfth of the total. If tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190billion would be available to governments every year.
 
Just consider how that money could help the vulnerable poor in a country such as Malawi, for example. 
 
Video below: Hear a nurse and teacher in Malawi speak about their daily challenges to help patients and pupils.
 
 

Inequality in Malawi: Health & Education

Because despite growing wealth among the urban elite over the past seven years, Malawi – one of the world’s poorest countries with seriously under-resourced health and education systems – has also seen inequality increase. 
 
As well as a crackdown on tax dodging Oxfam is urging world leaders to increase investment in public services and act to boost the income of the lowest paid. 
 
The new Oxfam report shows how women globally are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current ‘62’, 53 are men and just nine are women. The majority of low paid workers around the world are women. 
 
Oxfam Ireland is also calling on our politicians to do more to end the gender pay gap that sees that sees women earn less than men (almost 14% in the Republic of Ireland; 12.5% in Northern Ireland).
 
It is time our politicians take note and reject this broken economic model. We cannot continue to allow hundreds of millions of people to go hungry while resources that could be used to help them are sucked up by those at the top.
 
Inequality is not inevitable. Inequality is the result of policy choices. We need our leaders to tell the 1% that the 99% and particularly those struggling to make ends meet here and overseas have had enough.
 
 
Above: Barbara carries water to her house. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Oxfam is calling for urgent action – a crackdown on tax dodging, increased investment in public services and action to boost the income of the lowest paid – to tackle the inequality crisis and reverse the dramatic fall in wealth of the poorest half of the world. 
 
Allowing governments to collect the taxes they are owed from companies and rich individuals will be vital if world leaders are to meet their new goal, set last September, to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. 
 
As a priority, Oxfam is calling for an end to tax dodging which has seen increasing use of offshore centres by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying their fair share to society. This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality. 
 
With 2016 being an election year throughout Ireland, north and south, Oxfam is calling on election candidates to prioritise inequality and inviting voters to join its campaign calling on politicians to tackle tax dodging, roll out universal access to healthcare and end the gender pay gap in their respective new programmes for government.
 
 
Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. Follow him on Twitter here.
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Budget 2016 lost opportunity for real tax transparency

The Irish government’s final budget is a lost opportunity for real tax transparency needed to ensure a fair recovery for all.
 
We need to wipe out the secrecy that facilitates corporate tax dodging. Corporate tax dodging means governments keep putting their hands in the pockets of ordinary taxpayers to pay for the shortfall – many of whom can least afford it.
 
Minister Noonan announced today that Ireland will be one of the first countries to require companies operating here to declare to tax authorities how much tax they pay and where in line with new OECD recommendations. However, Ireland’s tax authorities will not have to share the information or force companies to publish their reports.
 
The government has moved in the right direction with measures announced today but missed the opportunity to show real leadership by ensuring companies publish their results so citizens are aware of exactly what they earn where, what they owe where and what they actually pay in tax.
 
18,000 people petitioned Minister Noonan last week asking him to make tax fair as part of Oxfam’s campaign against inequality. By dodging their tax liabilities, big businesses are constraining the ability of governments worldwide to tackle inequality and provide critical services. Ordinary people in rich and poor countries alike lose out as a result of tax havens, tax competition and a lack of transparent data on financial activities.
 
We recognise the government’s efforts over the past two years to deliver this action plan.  But this tax package must mark the beginning, not the end of global tax reform.  We need reforms that genuinely create an international tax system which works in the interests of the majority – not the few.
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