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Four big pharma companies depriving poor countries of almost €100 million through tax dodging

  • New report from Oxfam indicates Ireland’s corporate tax rules allow all four to shift profits to and through Ireland
  • Aid agency calls for greater transparency to end corporate tax dodging

The U.S. pharmaceutical company Abbott paid zero tax on profits of €1.2 billion declared in Ireland in 2015, costing the Irish taxpayer an estimated €155 million that year alone, according to new research based on available data from Oxfam Ireland. 

The report, Hard to Swallow: Facilitating tax avoidance by Big Pharma in Ireland, was published in parallel to Oxfam America’s wider report, Prescription for Poverty, which looks at the harmful tax practices of four of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies - Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co (MSD) and Pfizer. All four operate in Ireland and Hard to Swallow indicates that Ireland’s corporate tax rules have allowed them to avoid large amounts of tax by shifting profits to and through Ireland.

Oxfam also determined that Johnson & Johnson recorded profits of €4.31 billion in Ireland in 2015 but only paid an effective tax rate of six percent, €250 million less than they should have paid at Ireland’s corporate tax rate of 12.5%. Added to the Abbott figure, that means just two of the four companies avoided €405 million in tax in just one year.

The aid agency warned that these companies appear to be depriving governments – including several developing countries – of revenue that could be spent on fighting poverty and vital services for the poorest such as public health care.

The report uncovers a trend that suggests these companies are recording very high levels of profit in countries like Ireland with low corporate tax rates, while recording much lower levels in the seven developing countries assessed in this report. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s Thai subsidiaries posted eight percent profit while its Irish subsidiaries posted 38 percent profit for the years 2013-15. During the same period, Abbott made only eight percent profit in Thailand, which has a tax rate of 20 percent, while earning 75 percent profit in Ireland. Nothing they are doing is illegal, they are simply taking advantage of corporate tax rules that allow them to transfer profits from poorer countries to lower their tax bill.

In the wake of numerous tax dodging scandals, including the recent Paradise Papers, these findings undermine the Irish government’s claims that it is implementing appropriate measures to tackle tax avoidance, which contributes to rising inequality and poverty.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “All four companies have long-standing operations in Ireland and employ a combined total of approximately 10,000 people. The shadow-side of their presence here is their ability to use Ireland as a means to avoid paying taxes on their global operations.

“Our research shows that corporate tax avoidance continues to drive inequality and acts as a barrier to ending poverty by fuelling its root causes. Tax avoidance by the four pharma companies we investigated has deprived the cash-strapped governments of the seven developing countries covered in this report of more than €96.6 million every year – money that could be used to provide quality healthcare and tackle issues like poor sanitation which still affects 2.3 billion people globally.     

“It’s an unacceptable irony that the companies that produce life-saving medicines are depriving governments of money that could be used to save lives. Governments must require all companies to publish financial information for every country where they do business, so it is clear if they are paying their fair share.”

The Irish Government recently outlined its plan to address corporate tax avoidance in the report Ireland’s Corporate Tax Roadmap. All of the items outlined in the roadmap are either compulsory under EU law or have already been signed up to by Ireland. While it will tackle some mechanisms used for corporate tax avoidance, it does not go far enough to address all of the tax dodging mechanisms employed by multinationals, including big pharma companies. Most worryingly, the plan contains few, if any, mechanisms to address corporate tax avoidance that impacts developing countries.

Among a number of recommendations in the report, Oxfam is calling for greater transparency to truly tackle corporate tax avoidance.

Clarken continued: “Because the four pharmaceutical companies we investigated are not required to make public where they make profit and pay taxes, our attempt to quantify their tax avoidance barely scratches the surface.

“However, increased transparency through public Country by Country Reporting, would provide decision-makers, investors, journalists and civil society actors, especially in developing countries, with data to help review and, if necessary, reform corporate tax avoidance practices.”

In order to ensure Ireland’s well-earned reputation of acting fairly and being a champion of the rights of poorer countries, Oxfam is calling on the Irish Government to:

  • Support efforts at EU level to agree meaningful legislation on public Country by Country Reporting
  • Advocate at relevant global forums for a consensus to be reached on a global minimum effective tax rate
  • Address profit-shifting, including signing up to Article 12 of the OECD’S Multilateral Instrument.
  • Review and reform Ireland’s Double Taxation Treaties
  • Strengthen Ireland’s existing Exit Tax regime and subject all new tax incentives to rigorous economic and risk assessments
  • Contribute to a second generation of international tax reforms to address the use of highly mobile value, including IP and other intangible assets.
  • Ensure that developing countries participate in all discussion concerning corporate tax reform on an equal basis

To read the recommendations in full, click here for the full report.

ENDS

CONTACT: For interviews, images or more information, contact: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland – alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org / +353 (0) 83 198 1869

 

Notes to the Editor:

  • To read Hard to Swallow: Facilitating tax avoidance by Big Pharma in Ireland in full, visit: click here.
  • The seven developing countries covered in Hard to Swallow are: Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, India, Pakistan, Peru and Thailand.
  • This Oxfam Ireland report focuses on four pharmaceutical companies’ practices in Ireland and is published in parallel to a wider report from Oxfam America, Prescription for Poverty: Drug companies as tax dodgers, price gougers and influence peddlers. To see data and analysis for other countries as well as the methodology document, see the Oxfam America report: https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/prescription-poverty
  • Oxfam’s methodology is explained in the report in more detail. We used publicly available data on the financial activities of the companies to gauge if their tax payments in a country were aligned with the level of economic activity. In the absence of full information, we used revenue and profits as a proxy for real economic activity. We multiplied the company’s revenues in a country by the global profit margin to estimate profits, assuming uniform profit margins worldwide. While we recognise that margins are inconsistent, we had to assume the opposite for the purposes of this analysis. We applied the country’s statutory tax rate to the estimated profits to estimate how much tax would have been owed if profits were not diverted. Finally, we subtracted actual tax paid in that country from estimated tax owed, to calculate the estimated shortfall. We also spoke to current and former executives from top ten pharmaceutical and accounting firms on condition of anonymity, as well as other tax experts. They described carefully designed corporate structures that systematically minimise the amount of profit that stays in developing countries. We also asked the companies to check and explain our findings and to provide evidence where they differ with our interpretation. We refer to their responses in our report.
  • For Ireland tax losses were calculated based on the difference between the tax the company paid in Ireland and the headline rate of 12.5%. This is the standard way of calculating such ‘tax expenditures’.
  • B-roll footage shows how chronic underfunding of India’s healthcare system has resulted in an encephalitis crisis in Utter Pradesh, India that claimed the lives of over a thousand children in 2017 and left many more permanently disabled. While pharmaceutical companies are not responsible for India’s failing health system, stopping corporate tax dodging is critical to ensuring governments have the resources they need to invest in public services. Pfizer, Merck & Co, Johnson & Johnson, and Abbott appear to have avoided an estimated $74 million a year in tax between 2013 and 2015. This money is more than enough to provide every child born in India during that period with bed nets which help prevent the spread of the disease. The B-roll and shot list is available here.
  • Merck & Co is also known as Merck Sharp & Dohme or MSD in some jurisdictions including Australia and Ireland.

**Please note new email address: alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org**

Oxfam closely monitoring Super Typhoon Mangkhut bearing down on Philippines

Oxfam and partner staff in the Philippines are preparing to respond to Super Typhoon Mangkhut as it barrels towards the north of the country.
 
Super Typhoon Mangkhut/ Ompong, Philippines. Photo Credit: PAGASA forecast
 
Known locally as Ompong, the super typhoon is predicted to make landfall in north of the main island of Luzon on Saturday morning and is packing devastating winds gusts up to 250 km/h, according to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
 
The state weather bureau also reported that this could be the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year.
 
Oxfam in the Philippines Country Director, Maria Rosario Felizco, said the organisation was concerned by UN estimates that 1.9 million people lived in the predicted path of this dangerous storm.
 
“Super Typhoon Mangkhut is bringing very destructive winds and torrential rainfall, and it could cause storm surges and flash flooding in northern Philippines,” Ms Felizco said.
 
“We are also concerned about the potential for landslides, due to the mountainous terrain in northern Luzon, and flooding from the expected heavy torrential rain.”
 
Oxfam has strong response capacity in The Philippines with a team of experienced responders on the ground, and strong relationships with partner organisations.
 
Oxfam has expertise in water supply, sanitation and hygiene, cash programming, emergency food security and livelihoods, and gender and protection.
 
“If Super Typhoon Mangkhut maintains its current intensity and hits the northern Philippines, the consequences could be devastating,” Ms Felizco said.
 
“We and our partners are on high alert and ready to respond if needed.”
 
The Philippine Government considers Super Typhoon Mangkhut to be highly threatening and has said a request for international assistance might be considered, depending on landfall and impact.
 
ENDS
 
Oxfam has spokespeople available on the ground.
 
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: 
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org  
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfam.org 
 
 

Oxfam: fear and violence could still undermine efforts to contain Ebola in DR Congo

 
New cases of Ebola found in urban areas over the last few days show the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not yet under control and the next few weeks will be critical to contain the virus, Oxfam warned today. 
 
Despite a strong response, not enough is being done to help communities overcome their understandable fears and in some cases lack of knowledge about the disease. Conflict, which has plagued the eastern part of DRC for decades could also still undermine efforts to contain the latest outbreak, which has claimed ninety lives since it began on 1 August.   
Fear within communities is making it difficult to provide help or take action to prevent the spread of the disease – with people at times threatening those trying to help. Many people don’t know who to trust, having spent years caught up in conflict, with little response from the international community or the government. They do not understand why people are now coming in such large numbers. 
 
Apollinaire, a 38 year old nurse from Mangina, was attacked by grieving families. Photo Credit: John Wessels/Oxfam
 
Jose Barahona, Oxfam’s Country Director in the DRC, said: “While the transmission rate appeared to be slowing down due to communities responding quickly to prevent the spread, these new cases in urban areas mean we’re not out of the woods yet. In big cities, people come into contact with far more people, especially in a major trading place. 
 
“It’s also of real concern that three cases of the virus were found in a place where armed groups are highly active. These are hostile groups, who don’t negotiate, and our ability to reach people in need is extremely challenging. We cannot predict the scale of the consequences if the virus spreads further into rebel-held areas, or if these armed groups start to attack areas which have been hardest hit by Ebola.” 
 
One neighbourhood of Beni has become a transmission hub – often with daily cases in past weeks. A woman confirmed to have the virus and the health worker treating her, have also died in the city of Butembo, a major trade hub that’s home to around 1 million people and close to the Ugandan border. There have been three cases, including one death in the town of Oicha, an area in which it is extremely dangerous to work due to the presence of armed rebel groups. While the virus is thought to be under control here, there have been significant attacks by armed groups on army positions around Beni town in recent weeks, including one this Sunday. 
 
Oxfam is also concerned that fear is making some members of the community take huge health risks by avoiding taking sick family-members to Ebola treatment centers, because they see them as ‘prisons’ or ‘places of death’. A significant number of people who have been in touch with someone contagious have fled their homes and in some cases, people are resisting handing over bodies of their deceased loved ones, making the threat of the virus spreading much more acute. 
 
In Mangina, the epicentre of the outbreak where over 80 percent of fatalities have occurred, Oxfam found people in shock and angry that family members have died so quickly and are being taken away from them. 
 
Whilst the majority of people were aware of the seriousness of the virus and have been making great efforts to break the chain of contamination, those who didn’t know about Ebola, were scared and had heard many rumours.   
 
Amongst the daily incidents of low-level violence, Oxfam staff heard of some instances where fear had resulted in aid workers being threatened by angry people brandishing machetes and wooden sticks, rocks being thrown at cars, and health workers being blamed for ‘killing’ family members. In one village, part of a health-screening checkpoint was burnt down and Oxfam staff witnessed residents of another village create a roadblock, preventing any help from getting through. 
 
Barahona said: “People are facing the virus for the first time, so they are understandably shocked and scared. If you add in the appearance of health workers in space-age hazard suits and the fact they’ve been living with the threat of violence for decades, you can imagine how terrifying the situation is.” 
 
Oxfam is already helping over 138,000 people, by providing clean, safe water and working with local community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent Ebola, to dispel any myths and fears people have. 
 
Barahona said: “From working on previous Ebola outbreaks, it is clear that talking with communities and finding safe solutions with them is critical to containing the virus. When people are informed, and time is taken to listen to their concerns and questions, their behaviour changes rapidly. We have to work with people to change their understanding and behaviour if we hope to keep Ebola under control. 
“These people have lived for years with conflict, and no one has reacted. Now they are seeing loved-ones taken away and not buried as customs demand. Much more needs to be done to ensure that the whole response listens to the concerns of the communities.” 
 
ENDS
 
Spokespeople are available in the region and in Ireland.
 
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: 
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
NOTES TO EDITORS: 
 
According to the World Health Organisation, 90 people have now died from Ebola and there are 131 cases (confirmed and probable) http://www.who.int/ebola/situation-reports/drc-2018/en/
 
Apollinaire, a 38 year old nurse from Mangina, was attacked by grieving families: 
 
“I have been working as a nurse for over ten years. I already knew of the disease before it arrived here, I knew it was very contagious. As soon as we saw the signs of the disease and the laboratory results, we reported the cases. I have reported ten cases since the beginning of the outbreak. 
 
“Some people in the community got angry because I was referring sick people to the treatment centre. They thought it was my fault their family members were dying and that people were being killed at the hospital. They chased me with pieces of wood and threatened me.” 
 
After this incident, when the community was well informed, they apologized and regretted what happened. 
 
Louise is a community leader (deputy chief) in a district within Mangina, the most affected area by the Ebola virus. 
 
“At first we thought Ebola was witchcraft. We thought it was a spell cast on women because they are the one who are most affected. But since we received an explanation, we have understood that it is a very serious disease that strikes us. Many women have died here in Mangina, at least 20 women, they are almost all from the same family. It must be said that in our community, it is the women who tend to the sick people, they also clean them, and wash the clothes. 
 
“Since the Ebola outbreak many people have died, others are in the hospital.  Many children are without their mothers. These children live with difficulty and the community has few means to help them. Here in Mangina, even finding food for your household is difficult. Sometimes you can spend the day without eating. 
 
“We must start by training ourselves, the leaders, in awareness so that we can raise awareness in return. We are well placed to convey the information to the communities because we know them and they know us. If we talk to our communities, they will understand us.” 
 

August, the cruellest month in Yemen - Oxfam

An IDP from Hodeidah in Abs district, Hajjah governorate.Credit: Oxfam In Yemen: Ahmed Al-Fadeel 
 
300 children amongst almost 1,000 civilian casualties of the carnage
Oxfam calls for war criminals to be held to account, as peace talks start in Geneva
 
August has been the bloodiest month this year for civilians in Yemen with 981 innocent people killed or injured, including over 300 children. Almost half of these casualties, including 131 children, were wounded or lost their lives in the first nine days of August alone, according to the UN’s civilian impact monitoring department.
 
These reports, gleaned from open sources, are not likely to have captured all civilian casualties and make for sickening reading: 16 fishermen killed and four missing following an airstrike, a woman killed by sniper fire, two children killed by cluster bombs; schools, homes, farms attacked and many more instances of innocent families hit.
 
The devastating numbers are due to warring parties’ reckless disregard for civilian lives and the failure of their political backers to offer any action to prevent the carnage, Oxfam said today, ahead of Yemen peace talks in Geneva.
 
According to the UN between 26 March 2015 and 9 August 2018 there were a total of 17,062 civilian casualties in Yemen. The majority of these casualties, 10,471, were as a result of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
 
Meanwhile the Houthis and other armed groups continue their stranglehold in Taiz and other areas where street fighting and the use of landmines is leading to civilian casualties, and lack of access means people are denied humanitarian assistance. 
 
Speaking ahead of the first talks in two years to try to secure peace between the Saudi-backed forces and Houthi rebels, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken said:
 
“As parents across the island of Ireland began to think about back-to-school and buying uniforms in August, the parents of hundreds of children in Yemen buried their beloved sons and daughters, recklessly killed in a conflict that is destroying the lives of millions of Yemenis. 
 
“Yemen is now a free-fire zone where people gathering for weddings, burying their loved ones or going to market are risking their lives every day. The suffering of the people of Yemen is an affront to our shared humanity and a failure of powerful countries to uphold any sense of the values they are fond of espousing.
 
“It is a shameful chapter of diplomatic double speak, underhand dealings and downright hypocrisy. All warring parties have committed, and continue to commit, violations of the rules of war. The perpetrators and those who are actively involved need to be brought to account and the Irish and UK governments  can play their part by continuing to press for international action to end the conflict.
 
“Ending the killing of civilians needs to be a priority for all parties and communities in Yemen. Today’s talks in Geneva offer them an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and end the carnage.”
 
Despite assurances that there was a ‘pause’ in the fighting around the port city of Hudaydah the beginning of August saw deadly mortar attacks on a busy market killing 41 civilians, including six children and four women, and injuring another 111 civilians. There was also a mortar attack on a hospital in the city causing many civilian casualties.
 
On 9 August, a market and a bus full of school children was bombed killing 46 people and leaving 100 casualties. Most of the dead were boys under the age of 13 years old. Later in the month at least 22 children and four women were killed by an airstrike as they fled a previous attack the day before.
 
Aid agencies are finding it difficult to help people because of the fighting and blocked roads. Damage to water and sanitation infrastructure in Hudaydah and other parts of the country is denying thousands of people access to water, and increasing the threat of a third cholera wave.
 
Oxfam has been in Yemen since 1983. Since 2015, Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people in nine governorates of Yemen, providing water and sanitation services – including as part of a cholera response to prevent and contain the disease. Oxfam is also trucking water as well as providing cash assistance and food vouchers.
 
ENDS
 
Spokespeople are available in the region and in Ireland.
 
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: 
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
NOTES TO EDITORS: 
 
The figures collated by the UN’s civilian impact monitoring department come from open sources and have not been verified. They are collected on a daily basis and shared with UN agencies and NGOs. 
 
A recent joint UN Development Programme Early Recovery Assessment showed how life has deteriorated for people across the board in last three years of the conflict, people are becoming poorer, many have lost incomes and are reliant on casual labour or aid, many cannot afford to buy food, and face difficulties accessing food, water, health and education. 
 
Last week’s UN Group of Experts report shows a pattern of violations and potential war crimes committed against civilians by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and by the Houthis over the last three years, including a punishing air and naval blockade, attacks on residential areas, schools and medical facilities, and arbitrary arrests.
 

 

$72 million needed to protect Rohingya refugee women missing out on vital aid

Rohingya women living in Bangladesh are developing health problems, missing out on aid and are at greater risk of abuse due to unsafe and unsuitable facilities in many parts of the refugee camps, Oxfam warned today. 
 
The international agency called for 15 per cent of new funding to be set aside for humanitarian programs designed to better support women and girls – including $72 million of the nearly half a billion dollars recently committed by the World Bank. Currently, there is no standalone budget for meeting women’s specific needs in the overall emergency response.
 
The Bangladesh government and agencies have provided emergency aid to more than 700,000 Rohingya people who have arrived over the past year, but the speed at which the world’s biggest refugee camp sprang up has made it difficult for support to keep pace.
 
More than a third of women surveyed by Oxfam and partner agencies said they did not feel safe or comfortable going to collect water or using toilets and shower cubicles – many of which lack a roof and a lockable door. Half the women and three quarters of adolescent girls said they didn’t have what they needed to manage their periods, including a female-only place to wash sanitary cloths without embarrassment.
 
As a result, women are going hungry and thirsty to avoid needing the toilet as frequently, suffering abdominal pain and infections by not relieving themselves or using unhygienic sanitary cloths, and resorting to defecation by their tents, which increases the risk of a major outbreak of disease – especially in the monsoon. 
 
Poor facilities are also increasing the risk of sexual abuse and harassment. Hundreds of incidents of gender-based violence are reported each week.
 
Oxfam’s Advocacy Manager in Cox’s Bazar, Dorothy Sang, said: “The breakneck speed at which the Rohingya refugee crisis unfolded meant that many emergency facilities were installed in a rush and women’s specific needs weren’t considered. Women and girls are now paying the price in terms of their wellbeing and safety. 
 
“This needs to be rectified urgently with substantial sums set aside to support and protect Rohingya women, such as lighting to improve safety, toilets and wash rooms that provide privacy, and extra assistance for the most vulnerable.”
Single mothers whose husbands are missing or dead head up one in six families in the Rohingya camps. They face particular problems, having to take on public roles that challenge cultural and religious assumptions about women’s place in society. Oxfam is calling for more to be done to support these vulnerable women, such as help collecting aid packages and more community dialogue about men and women’s traditional roles.
 
Oxfam is working with local organisations and refugees to tailor its humanitarian response to more effectively support women and girls. This includes installing solar-powered lights along pathways, distributing portable solar lamps, running women’s groups to discuss issues like safety and early marriage, community work to tackle violence against women, and working with refugees to design new toilet facilities with features like lockable doors, shelves to keep clothes out of the mud, and screens to afford privacy.  
Sang added: “The Bangladesh Government should be commended for allowing Rohingya people to seek refuge in Cox’s Bazar. We join them and others in calling on Myanmar to address the discriminatory policies that are the root cause of this crisis.”
Close to a million Rohingya people have sought refuge in Bangladesh following a military campaign against them in Myanmar that has been described by UN officials as ‘ethnic cleansing’. 
 
 
ENDS           
 
CONTACT: 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org  
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
Rohingya refugee Ayesha with her daughter in her shelter in the camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam
 
Rohingya refugee Asia Bibi* with solar panels provided by Oxfam, in her shelter in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  Photo Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Oxfam

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