Press Releases

Oxfam welcomes breakthrough on corporate tax transparency after nearly 5 years of EU deadlock

  • Oxfam Ireland disappointed that Ireland voted against basic tax transparency measure.

Thursday 25 February 2021

Today, after almost five years of deadlock, EU governments in the Council finally backed new EU rules on corporate tax transparency. The proposal requires multinationals to publicly report on what profits they make, how much tax they pay, and where they pay it. Member states, the European Parliament and the Commission will now have to agree on a compromise text in ‘trilogue’ negotiations. 

Ireland was one of the countries to vote against the proposal. 

Reacting to the news, Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland CEO said: “This agreement is an important first step towards greater corporate tax transparency, but it is not enough. The revelations from multiple leaks like the Paradise Papers and Lux leaks have shown the many ways multinational corporations are shifting profits to avoid tax.  

"Oxfam has documented how such tax avoidance undermines developing country's ability to generate adequate revenues to provide comprehensive public services, such as healthcare and education - which help tackle poverty and foster prosperity.  

It is really disappointing that Ireland voted against this basic tax transparency measure. This proposal is a vital step towards making sure that multinational corporations pay their fair share of taxes, in developing as well as developed countries.” 

“We urge the European Parliament and Council to build on the current proposal with strong transparency rules. These rules must cover operations in all countries, not just those in EU countries.” 

END

Contact 

Caroline Reid | 087 912 3165 

Notes to editors:  

  • Today, the majority of member states in the Competitiveness Council supported a proposal requiring multinationals to publish their income tax information. Next week, member states will confirm their support with an official vote through written procedure.
  • The European Commission in 2016 sent a draft text to the European Parliament and Council in the wake of the Luxleaks scandal. The European Parliament passed the file to the Council in July 2017.
  • According to Oxfam’s and other CSOs’ analysis, the Council’s compromise has some weaknesses including:
    • an obligation for companies to publicly report information on a country-by-country basis only for their operations in EU members states and certain third countries identified but yet to be defined as tax havens.
    • a “corporate-get-out-clause” allowing a reporting exemption for “commercially sensitive information”
    • a reporting requirement applied only to companies with an annual consolidated turnover above EUR 750 million. This will exclude 85 - 90 per cent of multinationals.
  • According to conservative estimates, Governments lose $245 bn in tax revenue annually due to corporate tax abuse by multinationals worldwide. Lower income countries’ tax losses are equivalent to nearly 52 per cent of their combined public health budgets. Luxembourg, at the centre of the #Openlux scandal, attracts an estimated $66bn in profits artificially from multinationals each year.
  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has approved €3.1 trillion in state aid to companies in member states suffering from the economic hit of the COVID-19 crisis.
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Irish coalition request urgent support for emergency WTO waiver for sharing of Covid-19 vaccine technology in open letter to Taoiseach

  • Open letter to Micheál Martin details moral and economic consequences of continued opposition to temporary, emergency measures being proposed by 100 countries at the WTO

  • Covid-vaccine supply limits leave all countries and populations at risk  

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Today, a coalition of Irish organisations, networks and unions, wrote an open letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urgently requesting Ireland’s support for proposals to allow Covid-19 vaccine technology to be shared openly through an emergency waiver at the World Trade Organisation. This emergency waiver would allow more vaccines and treatments to be produced on a global scale.

The letter, coordinated by Oxfam Ireland and signed by Access to Medicine Ireland, ActionAid, Amnesty International Ireland, Comhlámh, Concern, Dóchas, Goal, the Irish Global Health Network, INMO, MSF, Oxfam Ireland and Trócaire, details how the EU’s current position threatens the prospects of ending the Covid-19 pandemic. Namely, by blocking the “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of Covid-19” – a waiver that is supported by more than 100 nations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The current limits to global Covid-19 vaccine supplies could result in some countries having to wait until at least 2023 for mass immunisation, meaning all countries and populations are at greater risk of new variants developing which current Covid-19 vaccines may not remedy. The coalition warns that without united global action, the Covid-health crisis, and resulting economic fallout and disruption will continue to have grave effects here in Ireland and worldwide.

The Coalition state:

“Such global inequity is not only a catastrophic moral failure that will lead to needless suffering and loss of life. Ongoing outbreaks anywhere mean greater risk of new variants developing against which vaccines are not effective and/or that can evade the antibodies developed by survivors. There simply is no way to defeat Covid-19 in Ireland without united action worldwide."

“Ireland has a well-deserved reputation of supporting the human rights of the world’s poorest people. We are respected for our constructive engagement, acknowledging the importance of collective efforts amongst states for the problems that pay no heed to borders, such as the coronavirus pandemic. With so many of the world’s poorer nations supporting this emergency waiver already, you can help maintain Ireland’s moral and public health leadership in the world by siding with the majority to prioritise saving lives. Indeed, not doing so is self-defeating, as it is clear that the sooner the world’s population is vaccinated, the sooner EU citizens are safe.

"Thus, we respectfully request that you break with the unconscionable policies the EU has supported before the next WTO General Council meeting of March 1-2 and announce that Ireland will no longer support opposition to the temporary, emergency Covid-19 WTO waiver of certain TRIPS provisions.”

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Note to the Editor

  • Read the Open Letter in Full here.
  • Spokespeople are available for interview
  • The letter was coordinated by Oxfam Ireland and signed by Access to Medicine Ireland, ActionAid, Amnesty, Comhlámh, Concern, Dóchas, Goal, the Irish Global Health Network, INMO, MSF, Oxfam Ireland and Trócaire
  • The letter has also been sent to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Minister Eamon Ryan; Minister Simon Coveney; Minister Stephen Donnelly; Minister Thomas Byrne; Dr Tony Holohan, CMO; Ruairí De Búrca, Director Irish Aid. 
  • The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires WTO members to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests and the technologies used to produce them. After a global campaign by public health and development groups, in 2001 the WTO issued a binding declaration about better balancing TRIPS intellectual property protections and public health needs. A temporary emergency Covid-19 waiver is in line with the WTO members’ agreement that intellectual property rules cannot create barriers to health treatments for diseases that unnecessarily cost human lives and undermine the global economy.   
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Ireland set to oppose new tax transparency law at key EU vote

24 February 2021

Efforts at the EU to bring greater transparency to the activities of multinational companies is once again set to be opposed by Ireland, a coalition of development organisations has warned.

The new law, known as public country by country reporting, would require companies to report publicly on the full spectrum of their activities in the jurisdictions in which they operate, and has the potential to help identify possibly illegal instances of profit shifting by multinational companies.

The EU’s Competitiveness Council, made up of Business and Enterprise Ministers from the 27 Member states, is responsible for negotiating the law. It will meet on Thursday 25 February where member states will be asked to make their position known and Ireland is one of the few remaining countries continuing to oppose the initiative. (1)

ActionAid Ireland, Christian Aid Ireland and Oxfam Ireland, who have been campaigning for over a decade for the introduction of public country by country, are calling on the government to drop their opposition to the measure and to support efforts to bring greater transparency to the profits made and taxes paid by multinationals in the countries in which they work.

The new law would have no impact on the taxation of individual companies, nor would it affect the tax rate, tax base or tax sovereignty of any jurisdiction.

Christian Aid Ireland’s Head of Policy and Advocacy, Sorley McCaughey said: “Compared to some of the changes to international taxation being negotiated at the OECD, public country by country reporting is relatively modest. It is a cost-free change that has only positive benefits that the government should have no hesitation in supporting,”

“At a time when public finances are under extraordinary strain, it’s really important that the public can see whether or not multinational companies are making a fair contribution to the society in which they operate.”

The Government has previously raised technical and procedural objections to try to block country by country reporting, arguing that it should progress through an EU Council meeting of Finance Ministers, which would enable a national veto, as opposed to current plans which only require a simple majority. Despite legal changes to the text to provide reassurances, the Irish government insist they should maintain a veto.

While the Government has insisted it is committed to increased tax transparency, arguing that such measures will dispel accusations over Ireland’s role in global tax avoidance, Ministers have refused to state whether they support the country by country reporting proposal itself should disagreements over the legislative process be resolved.

Ireland’s position is at odds with the majority of other EU members states, the Commission, and the European Parliament’s own legal Service who all share the view that this file is an accounting and company law issue and not a tax issue.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, Jim Clarken, said: “The revelations from multiple leaks like the Paradise Papers and Lux leaks have shown the many ways multinational corporations are shifting profits to avoid tax. Oxfam has documented how such tax avoidance undermines developing countries ability to generate adequate revenues to provide comprehensive public services, such as healthcare and education, which help tackle poverty and foster prosperity. It is untenable that Ireland is attempting to block this basic tax transparency measure. This proposal is a vital step towards making sure that multinational corporations pay their fair share of taxes, in developing as well as developed countries.”

Developing countries are disproportionately affected by multinational shifting profits but have significantly less access to information about multinational's activities than developed countries.

Under current reporting requirements none of Ireland's development partners have access to country by country reports at present and only four African tax administrations can currently receive country by country reports through the system of automatic information exchange. All tax authorities and policy makers would have equal access to country by country reports if they are made publicly available.

A previous report by Christian Aid has found that developing countries are being robbed of revenues worth $416bn a year by abusive and harmful tax practices by companies and wealthy individuals exploiting tax loopholes to avoid paying tax.

ActionAid Ireland CEO, Siobhán McGee, said: “Last year ActionAid reported that big US technology companies are exploiting loopholes in global tax rules to avoid paying as much as $2.8bn in tax a year in developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that the 20 countries studied by ActionAid need to employ at least 1,790,000 more nurses by 2030 to achieve their benchmark of 40 nurses per 10,000 people. The money lost to tax avoidance could pay for all of these nurses in just three years. In a time of unprecedented health and economic crisis, it is imperative that everybody, including large multinationals, is fully accountable and paying their fair share.”

If agreement is reached formal negotiations between the European Council, Commission, and Parliament to bring into law public country by country reporting would take place over the course of 2021.

Ends

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes for Editors

(1) Due to coronavirus restrictions member countries will verbally indicate on 25 Feb whether they support the initiative, after which each member states EU ambassador will write to the Council during week of 1 March to officially confirm whether they support the initiative or not.

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Nearly 40 percent of Yemen families forced into debt to pay for food and medicine

  • Number of families using debt to buy food has risen by 62 percent  

  • Pharmacists estimate 44 percent increase in debt being used to buy medicine 

Nearly two out of every five families in Yemen currently buy food and medicines using debt, according to Oxfam research published today. The research finds that Yemeni families are trapped in a cycle of informal debt, living precariously and reliant on good will of shopkeepers as they lurch from one month to the next. Many of the people Oxfam spoke with say they can’t borrow essentials unless shopkeepers know they have a monthly income and for many, this means the cash transfers they receive from humanitarian agencies. 

Last year, donors only provided half of the aid money needed for the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and with the 2021 UN humanitarian need budget for Yemen due out imminently, Oxfam is urging the international community to be generous when pledging funds.   

Oxfam’s research found that Yemeni shopkeepers estimate that the number of families using debt to buy food has risen by 62 percent since the conflict in Yemen started in 2015. While pharmacists in estimate an increase of 44 percent in debt being used to purchase medicines.

Layla Mansoor (31) and her family were forced to flee from their home in an active conflict zone in Hodeidah three years ago – they escaped with barely more than the clothes on their backs. Layla says she is often in debt to the shops she buys their food from and each month they owe between 10,000 and 12,000 YER (around USD $11-$15). 

Layla said: “At the moment we’re living a nightmare. Thankfully, until now, we haven’t needed any kind of medical treatment – but I’m afraid that we won’t afford it, if one day we do.” 

Ibrahim Alwazir who carried out the research for Oxfam in Yemen said: “To struggle this hard to be able to provide food and medicine for one's family is an avoidable hardship that millions have to overcome on a daily basis. We need peace so no more Yemenis are forced to flee their homes and live in poverty. Peace will allow people to rebuild their lives and businesses. 

“This war has turned my country into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and it’s only getting worse. We all just want to get back to normal life.”  

Hind Qassem (45) was pregnant when her husband was killed by an artillery shell forcing her to flee with her children.  At first, they lived under a plastic sheet, relying on leftovers given by neighbouring families. Three of her sons suffer from sickle cell anaemia and need blood transfusions every month. 

Hind said: “Now, I receive YER 45,000 (around US$70) every month, yes, it is not enough to cover all our needs, but it helps a lot. I am now able to pay for my children’s treatment and buy some flour and vegetables for us to eat. Shops will now allow us to buy food on credit because we are receiving monthly assistance.” 

Food shop and pharmacy owners both told Oxfam staff that they allow customers to take items on credit because they sympathise with the harsh difficulties they are facing. Some also said that it makes economic sense for their business, while pharmacists said they did not want to feel responsible for someone’s death if they refused credit for medicines. 

Grocery store owner Abdulkareem Salaeh from Sana’a said: "We are left with no choice … We only agree to lend people with a reliable source of income, like employees, business owners, daily wage labourers, or those receiving humanitarian aid, else it will be a loss that we can't afford. We are barely able to cover operational costs and the costs of goods we sell. It's unfortunate."

Concerned business owners told Oxfam that they feel the debt situation is unsustainable as their customers are increasingly unable to pay off all their debt each month and so the rising levels of debt their businesses are carrying mean their future is looking uncertain.  Oxfam is also worried that if shop owners do not have funds to replenish stock the resulting shortages will drive food prices even higher. 

It is estimated that in parts of Yemen one in five children are already severely malnourished and will grow up with life-long medical conditions if they do not receive more food. If business owners are unable to continue offering credit, people will be unable to eat, which will result in even higher levels of malnourishment. What we are witnessing in Yemen now, is potentially just the tip of a much bigger hunger crisis. 

Ends 

Contact
Caroline Reid: caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes to editors:  

  • Images are available for use upon request
  • Research findings are based on 30 surveys by Oxfam in Yemen of grocery and pharmacy store owners across Sana’a, Hajjah, Ibb and Aden Governorates in November and early December 2020. All surveys were collected near poor and densely populated neighbourhoods within cities and suburban areas, with some of them being close to IDP settlements where humanitarian aid groups are active
  • Oxfam, along with other agencies in Yemen, provides support for struggling families in the form of cash transfers that enables people to choose what they buy and helps stimulate local markets. 
  • Many families who are struggling with debt say that they are living permanently in arrears - using their transfer to pay off what they owe and then run up more debt as they wait for their next aid payment.  This situation is worsening because high levels of inflation, fuelled by the conflict, mean that the value of money is decreasing. In practical terms the same amount of cash buys fewer groceries each month. 
  • Some 24.3 million Yemenis, over 53 percent of the population, currently need humanitarian assistance. This year, 16.2 million Yemenis will rely on food aid to survive, with 17.9 million lacking access to healthcare in a country where only half of health facilities are fully functional. It is estimated that in parts of Yemen one in five children are severely malnourished and will grow up with life-long medical conditions if they do not get more food.  
  • Aid relief information and update  
  • Health care facility information from UN Yemen HRP 2020 
  • Figures for numbers facing starvation and reliant on food aid taken from here 
  • Child malnutrition figures from UNICEF   
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Need for genuine responsibility sharing among EU member states

Call for Ireland to reinstate relocation of people seeking asylum from Greece

EU 

  • Only One-third of asylum relocations committed in 2015-2017 pledge met  
  • Commitments made after Moria fire less than half fulfilled  
  • Member state inaction leaving people seeking asylum in limbo 

Ireland  

  • Ireland fairs well on refugee resettlement commitments, but falls short on relocation
  • Call for Ireland to reinstate relocations from Greek Islands as soon as possible  

Greece  

  • People, including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons, are detained without reason
  • Children are not receiving any education.
  • Increase in reports of domestic abuse and difficultly accessing support services due to Covid restrictions
  • One in five people have attempted suicide  
  • “They are replacing our names with numbers”   

Today, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees released a report detailing the impact of EU countries’ failure to relocate people from Greek refugee camps. Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands, reveals that conditions in Lesbos fail to meet even minimum standards for humanitarian crises – while Europe moves towards replicating failed policies that created these untenable conditions. 

The joint report assesses EU member states solidarity programmes and how failures to meet commitments have contributed to pressure on the Greek Islands, spawning abysmal conditions, and systemic human rights abuses. The report also looks at the EU’s newly proposed asylum laws. In particular, it focuses on the proposals for responsibility sharing and solidarity mechanisms, finding that, despite promises of starting anew, the policies on the table fail to address the flaws that led to the overcrowded and inhospitable conditions in Greece.

In response to the report findings, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “EU member states, including Ireland, need to engage in genuine responsibility sharing rather than relying on ad hoc solidarity programmes. While we are happy that the Irish government responded to the solidarity call to enter into the EU relocation and resettlement programmes in 2015, we urge them to now engage with and support the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum’s solidarity mechanism by pledging to accept robust relocation quotas to support countries like Greece and encourage responsibility sharing among member states.” 

Greece, a country quickly overwhelmed as the number of people seeking asylum in Europe increased due to the outbreak of war in Syria in 2015, has since has harshened its stance on asylum. Reforms to their asylum law, increased use of detention and more barriers to access asylum are just some of the measures taken.   

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees, said: “Particularly since the EU-Turkey deal was struck, the EU and its member states have been trying to export their responsibility to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In Greece, the deal saw harsher laws, overcrowded camps and a failing reception system. Europe must overhaul its asylum laws to protect the rights of those seeking safety, while honouring the principle of solidarity between member states”

Clarken said: “Last year, in the aftermath of the Moria fires, the Irish government made commitments to resettle families and unaccompanied minors from Lesbos. These gestures of solidarity with Greece and the families and young people trapped in camps on the fringes of Europe are commendable. 

“However, it is now time to deliver on these commitments, and to reinstate relocations from Greece as soon as it is possible to do so.”

Meanwhile the human cost is mounting in Lesbos. One in five people have attempted suicide; people including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons are detained without reason; there is a risk of sexual assault; and children are not receiving any education. Women are particularly affected. There has been an increase in reports of domestic abuse while movement restrictions due to Covid are preventing women from accessing support. People in Lesbos are left without a future.  

Clarken continued: “Our failure to respond effectively as a European community is extinguishing hope – to the despairing extent that people are attempting to take their own lives.  

“The situation in the camp is dire – and time spent in waiting there is protracted. The drop in temperature and winter conditions has particularly affected people – who continue to live in tents and makeshift shelters. Insufficient or unstable power supplies have made it impossible for many to even warm themselves, while women in the camp continue to express concerns over their health and safety, as they are exposed to various security risks, including gender-based violence. 

Barlin*, currently staying in a prolonged administrative detention in Kos, said: “We don’t even have our basic rights as refugees. We are not free and we don’t know for how long [we will remain detained]. They are replacing our names with numbers, treating us as if we were in prison, calling us by our numbers.” 

Clarken concluded: “While the new Pact on Migration and Asylum aims to balance responsibility sharing across the EU, this will only happen if member states choose to act in solidarity and to uphold and protect a person’s right to seek asylum and to have their application assessed in a fair and timely manner. The alternative is to move towards further deterrents, which erode and undermine these rights – and mean that we are failing in our own international obligations – obligations designed to protect lives. 

“Our inaction is at best leaving people in limbo, at worst, it is sending them back to the persecution they tried to escape.”  

*Names have been changed  

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors:

  • The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis. Under this programme, the Government committed to accepting up to 4,000 people into the State, primarily through a combination of the EU Relocation Programme and the UNHCR's Refugee Resettlement Programme. A total of 3,358 people have arrived in Ireland to date under the various strands of the IRPP. You can read more about Ireland's response and commitments here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ede36-irish-refugee-protection-programme/
  • Relocation: 
  1. According to OPMI, in 2015 the Irish government committed to relocate 2,622 people via the EU Relocation Programme. The most up to date publicly available relocation data is from a PQ dated Oct. 6 2020: Ireland has relocated 1,022 people, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), and consider their commitment met and the scheme concluded (PQ 30 July 2020). 
  2. Phase two of IRPP only includes commitments on resettlement and community sponsorship: "In December 2019, a programme was put in place to welcome up to 2,900 refugees between 2020 and 2023 through a combination of resettlement and the new community sponsorship initiatives."
  • Ireland has yet to meet the commitment made last year to relocate families and unaccompanied minors from Greece after fires destroyed Moria camp on Lesbos.
  • Read the Lesbos bulletin, the February update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Lesbos. It details quotes from people currently living in camps in Greece, how the situation is falling short of Sphere standards - a set of principles mapping out the minimum standards in humanitarian settings with respect to access to water, sanitation, hygiene promotion, food, security and nutrition.    
  • Read our report: Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands. It details how failed EU policies and the shirking of responsibilities resulted in the abysmal situation in Greece, and how the current proposals replicate these failed policies and allow for the same shirking of responsibility.       
  • International Rescue Committee research, The Cruelty of Containment: The Mental Health Toll of the EU’s ‘Hotspot’ Approach on the Greek Islands, has found that one in three asylum seekers report suicidal thoughts, and one in five have already attempted to take their lives due to the impact of prolonged containment in 2018–20.    
  • Only one-third of the agreed upon 160,000 relocations took place from the 2015-2017 pledge. Following the fire in Moria, European countries made promises for the relocation of 5100 people. With 2050 relocations, less than half of this has been fulfilled. This was partly due to flight restrictions related to COVID-19, and partly due to cumbersome procedures, slow implementation and ’cherry picking’ practices by (at least) some member states.    
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