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Irish corporate tax policy to be assessed by the UN as a human rights issue

As reported in the Irish Times the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken the decision to examine the impact of Ireland’s international tax policy on the ability of countries of the Global South to raise revenue and fulfil their human rights obligations, in particular those that relate to children. As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Ireland is obliged to avoid policies that undermine the human rights of children at home or abroad. This is the first time that the external impact of Irish tax policy will be assessed under an international human rights instrument, and comes in response to a detailed submission  from a coalition of Irish, Ghanaian and international civil society organisations, including Oxfam Ireland.

Tax policy is critical for the realisation of human rights. It shapes states’ capacity to raise revenue, fund essential public services, and consequently to fulfil their human rights obligations. Academics, UN experts and civil society organisations have all emphasised this link, particularly in relation to economic, social and cultural rights – without fair and functioning taxation systems, efforts to deliver adequate housing, healthcare and education and to tackle poverty and inequality are badly undermined.

Crucially, this impact is not limited neatly within national boundaries. In a globalised economy, multinational corporations can exploit divergent domestic laws and a climate of competition, rather than cooperation, between states to dramatically reduce their tax bills. Through complex corporate structures, profits are shifted across borders into low or no tax jurisdictions, sheltering billions of euro every year, eroding tax bases and public budgets. These practices are particularly harmful for developing countries, which are more reliant on corporate income tax than higher income countries. Vital revenue is siphoned away, prolonging a country’s reliance on aid, exacerbating inequality and keeping people trapped in poverty.

Too often Irish corporate tax policy is considered only from the narrow perspective of the benefits it can bring to Ireland – insufficient attention however is given to its negative impacts beyond our borders. Other countries’ ability to raise badly needed revenue is undermined by tax avoidance, and in countries of the Global South, this can mean the difference between life and death.

Ireland’s role in the international tax avoidance landscape is well-documented, recognised by EU institutions, UN Commissions, bodies within the US Congress, and academics. A recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that ‘more than $616 billion in profits were shifted to tax havens in 2015, close to 40% of multinational profits’, and identified Ireland as ‘the number one shifting destination, accounting for more than $100 billion alone.’ Ireland also continues to negotiate tax treaties with countries of the Global South in a manner that facilitates avoidance, and undermines other countries’ capacity to raise revenue. In pursuing a recent tax treaty with Ghana, Ireland went against the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who advised that the effect of such tax treaties between ‘developed and developing countries is that capital flows from developing to developed nations’.

Growing public demand for tax justice has brought increased scrutiny on these practices, including by UN human rights monitoring bodies. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern regarding Switzerland’s financial secrecy and tax policies and how they impact other states’ capacity to raise revenue and fulfil women’s rights. Successive UN Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty and human rights have called on governments to stop facilitating avoidance, and to recognise the impact this has on some of the world’s poorest communities.

In October 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child announced that, for the first time ever, the negative consequences of Irish tax policy will be examined under the framework of another key international human rights treaty: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As a party to this Convention, Ireland is obliged to avoid policies that foreseeably undermine the realisation of children’s rights, at home or abroad, and its progress is reviewed at UN level every five years. But as the evidence presented to the Committee demonstrates, it is currently failing to meet these obligations due to its facilitation of harmful tax avoidance.

The Irish government must now formally address the impact of its tax policy on the realisation of children’s rights in other countries, in a detailed submission due by the end of 2021. It will then be formally reviewed by the Committee at hearings in Geneva in May 2022 for compliance with its international law obligations under the Convention. The coordinating civil society organisations, including Oxfam Ireland, will also build on their initial submission and provide further evidence to the committee as part of this process.

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Super Typhoon Goni – Oxfam and partners mobilise rapid response in the Philippines

It’s a country hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons a year. So, when Super Typhoon Goni – known locally as Rolly – slammed into the Philippines on Sunday, Oxfam and our partners were ready.

Our new disaster relief system, B-READY, identifies vulnerable people in communities likely to be affected. Once the exact path of the typhoon is confirmed, cash transfers to those people are triggered to enable them to prepare by securing their properties and ensuring they had enough provisions to get through the first few days.

Landslides triggered by Goni engulfed homes and vehicles in some of the hardest-hit areas. Photo: BCCD-AKKMA

We also have tools to carry out rapid assessments to determine what areas are most in need of food, hygiene kits and emergency shelters. Meanwhile, our partners are providing prepaid cards, that can also be topped up with cash, to the most vulnerable households in the capital city of Manila and displaced families in Marawi city.

At least two million people or 400,000 families have been affected by what was the strongest typhoon of 2020, resulting in thousands of homes being damaged or destroyed, and – according to the latest government figures – at least 10 deaths.

The intense storm also caused major damage to crops, with an estimated 20,000 farmers impacted.

Oxfam Philippines’ Humanitarian Lead, Rhoda Avila said:

We have experienced terrible wind speeds, lashing rains and devastating flooding. Buildings have been destroyed and whole villages are under water and mud flows.

We will be conducting assessments of affected areas with our partners as soon as we can get access, but conditions are very difficult. Roads are flooded and power is down in many areas making communications with some parts impossible.

We also have to work with the threat of COVID-19 transmission in mind to protect both our emergency response teams and the people they are helping.

Oxfam is on the ground, distributing vital aid to the thousands of families affected by the typhoon. We’ll be there as long as it takes to help communities rebuild – but we need your help to reach as many people as possible.

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Stuck for Stocking Fillers? Oxfam's online Christmas pop-up shop is now open!

On the 21 October, for the second time this year, our shops across the Republic of Ireland closed their doors to protect our staff, volunteers and customers, and to do our part in stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Our shops play an invaluable role in raising much-needed funds for our work worldwide – they help ensure we can continue to protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

However, they’re not just vital to our organisation, each one is community hub that has served and been supported by you for decades.

With our shops closed once again, we need your support now more than ever.

At this time of unprecedented change for us all, our mission remains the same – to let you, our supporters, know how you can help communities facing extreme poverty and disaster. Life-saving work that is only possible because of you.

We believe that sharing the stories and experiences of the communities we work with is even more important now with the rapid spread of Covid-19 and the multiple social and economic consequences it brings with it. From people living in flimsy shelters in refugee camps or communities without adequate hygiene and health infrastructure or social security, to countries like the Philippines suffering wave after wave of unimaginable extreme weather events, this pandemic is a crisis upon crises.

As you know, our shops play a central role in supporting our emergency appeals. Right now, we are trying to raise funds for the people of Syria. As we battle Covid-19, the situation for Syrians deteriorates by the minute. The virus threatens to harm as well as starve vulnerable families. More than nine years of conflict has led to an unprecedented number of parents struggling to put food on the table for their children.

We’re urgently appealing for your help and want to share some ways that you can continue to support your local Oxfam shop, even if its doors are closed.

We still want the things you don’t!

It might not be spring but the extra time during lockdown is a good time to start an autumn clear out. Save your donations and drop them in when we’re back up and running – for all of us, hopefully this will be sooner rather than later.

You can also help us continue to raise vital funds:

  • Make a one-off donation or setup a monthly one if you can.
  • Send a message to a special friend or family member with our Unwrapped alternative gift range.
  • Bag a bargain on www.fashionrelief.ie. Fashion Relief TV has new and pre-loved clothes and accessories for sale with new items added every second Friday when the show airs.
  • Set yourself a challenge and setup a Facebook fundraiser in solidarity with your local Oxfam shop – and help continue its crucial fundraising work.

64 years together.

Our shops have been a part of local communities as far back as 1956. That is 64 years of providing people with affordable and sustainable clothing, books, furniture and more.

Thank you for all of the ways you’ve supported us over those 64 years from donating and shopping to volunteering your time and talent.

We hope you will stand with us now and understand why we are asking for your continued support through this global storm that we are all weathering together.

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Over two million people impacted as Super Typhoon Goni sweeps across the Philippines

  • Entire villages under water and mud flows in aftermath of Typhoon Goni

  • Major crop damage estimated to impact 20,000 farmers

Oxfam is working with local partners and coordinating with local governments in the Philippines to assess the damage and needs of affected communities following Super Typhoon Goni’s four landfalls yesterday and early this morning.

At least two million people or 400,000 families have been affected, with thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, and at least ten people killed, according to the latest government figures. The intense storm also caused major damage to crops, with an estimated 20,000 farmers impacted.

The world’s strongest typhoon this year has now passed through the Philippines and weakened after hitting the densely populated capital, Manila, early this morning.

Oxfam Philippines’ Humanitarian Lead, Rhoda Avila said: “We have experienced terrible wind speeds, lashing rains and devastating flooding. Buildings have been destroyed and whole villages are under water and mud flows.

“We will be conducting assessments of affected areas with our partners as soon as we can get access, but conditions are very difficult. Roads are flooded and power is down in many areas making communications with some parts impossible.

“We also have to work with the threat of COVID-19 transmission in mind to protect both our emergency response teams and the people they are helping.”

Oxfam has been trialling a new disaster relief system in various parts of the country. B-READY identifies vulnerable people in several communities who are likely to be affected when a typhoon sweeps through their community. Once the exact path of the typhoon is confirmed, cash transfers to those people are then triggered to enable them to prepare by securing their properties and ensuring they have enough provisions to get through the first few days.

END

Contact 

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 

Notes to the editor

  • In country spokespeople available for interview 
  • Oxfam is working with local partners Humanitarian Response Consortium, Aksyon sa Kahandaan sa Kalamidad at Klima (AKKMA) and Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), and People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDRRN).
  • Super Typhoon Goni (known locally as Rolly) is the Philippines' 18th tropical cyclone for 2020.
  • Tropical Storm Siony is expected to make landfall in Cagayan Valley (in the northeast of the island of Luzon) later this week, according to the state weather bureau PAGASA. Cagayan Valley is the same area ravaged by Mangkhut, a powerful super typhoon, in September 2018 - which was the strongest storm that year.
  • An average of 20 tropical cyclones form within or enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility each year. Goni is the third consecutive typhoon in two weeks.
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Covid-19, a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency

The Covid-19 crisis has created a new world. Old certainties are quickly becoming outdated, while new challenges and possibilities abound.

The response to the pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping economies and societies functioning to save lives. It offers us all an opportunity to rebuild a better, fairer and more sustainable world, one where we take the climate crisis seriously and do not jeopardise the lives of our children and future generations.

Building a More Sustainable World

Moves to address the climate crisis have been lacklustre at best and any sense of urgency to act seems to be pushed further back due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold environmental protection, as in many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. Unlike Covid-19, the climate crisis is not an immediate threat to our lives here in Ireland. But we have already seen its effects, and in the longer term, it will pose a much greater threat to our existence. Indeed, for the people Oxfam works with, the climate crisis is not a future threat but something they experience every time extreme and unpredictable weather wreaks havoc on their lives and livelihoods. As with Covid-19, we cannot say we are safe unless we are all safe. Therefore, serious action on climate must be taken now. We must aim to meet our targets as a matter of urgency.

Desert locusts swarms destroyed farmland and livelihoods in 2019 and 2020. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

Climate Crisis

The devastating impacts of climate change are having real consequences on people’s lives right now; from locust swarms devastating crops and increased food and water insecurity, to extreme weather events and bush fires destroying homes and livelihoods. Vulnerability to disaster and climate change matters because it perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering.

To date, Ireland has been a laggard on climate action. The Programme for Government contains very positive commitments on climate, but the question is – will those commitments be honoured? Past governments have also pledged to reduce emissions but failed to do so.

As well as reducing emissions at home, richer countries like Ireland have committed to providing climate finance to ensure the countries most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources for life-saving adaptation measures. While the 2016 Programme for Government had an established target for climate finance supported by specific funds, the current programme instead commits to increasing the percentage of Official Development Assistance (ODA) being counted as climate finance, rather than committing to new or additional funding, as envisioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The commitment in the programme to double the percentage of ODA that counts as climate finance, without allocating additional funds, risks re-labelling existing aid as climate finance rather than committing to providing new finance to support climate action in the poorest countries. While there are many positives in the Programme for Government on climate action, the Government needs to do more if Ireland is to fulfil its obligations to provide much-needed finance to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate – without diverting existing and essential ODA.

Oxfam installed a solar powered water pump in Ghana that allows women to farm vegetables during the dry season. Ireland needs impactful climate action that helps all people. Photo: Oxfam

One in two people struggle daily to survive

Fulfilling these commitments will help the global effort to prevent countries slipping into food insecurity due to climate-related impacts on agricultural production and food prices. One in two people already struggle daily to survive; this is likely to increase dramatically in the wake of Covid-19. Food security must be protected, while policies and programmes that promote climate-resilient agriculture must be implemented and supported.

Rahela trying to catch fish for her family as they have nothing to eat after cyclone Bulbul. Gabura, Shamnagar. Photo: FabehaMonir/Oxfam

Throwaway & Circular Economies

The Government’s new National Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan is also to be welcomed; however, the focus is mainly on packaging even though textiles have been identified as one of the waste streams with the highest untapped potential to implement circular practices.

According to Re-dress, 225,000 tonnes of textiles end up in Irish landfills every year – a huge waste of resources considering it would take 13 years to drink the water needed to make just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans. In a circular economy, these items would be reused or recycled instead of contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions leeching out into our soil, water and air. Circularity not only benefits the environment and helps fight the climate crisis, it also creates innovative and sustainable economic opportunities.

Moving Forward

The time is now for Ireland to take a leadership role in promoting progressive change needed in the world. We must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that have made so many people vulnerable in the first place.

The choices made now will have profound implications for the future. They can lay the foundations for a more equal and sustainable world, or they can accelerate inequality and environmental destruction.

Together we can learn from this unprecedented crisis, and build a more human economy and a fairer world.

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