UN photo/Cia Pak


Lars Koch, Director of Programme & Influence, Oxfam IBIS

Corporate taxation took a prominent role at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) held in September. 

First of all the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, submitted his report to the General Assembly on the role of taxation on human rights, and the challenges that the current international tax regimes plays poses towards the international order.

The report contains a number of recommendations for reform of the international tax system, including a call for the revision of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to include the obligation of corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.

Secondly, the recommendations of the independent expert’s report was backed by the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who echoed the call for the establishment of a Global Tax Body.

A recurring issue

It is not the first time that the establishment of a global tax body has been on the UN agenda. Last year the G-77 and China, backed by numerous CSOs, pushed for the establishment of a UN-led Global Tax Body as part of the Financing for Development (FFD3) process, where the international society met in Addis Ababa in July 2015, to find the necessary finance for successfully implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The outcome of these negotiations was the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which provided strong language on the need for enabling funds through domestic taxation for development finance, but did not provide a mandate for a new global taxation organ.

A question of human rights

The Independent Expert has the mandate to identify, report, and promote policies and behaviour that furthers a democratic and equitable international order.

In his report on taxation to the UNGA, he states that urgent action most be taken to tackle the current failure of the international taxation system, and that; “Cosmetic changes are not enough. What is needed is bold and concerted action by Governments, not more diagnoses”(1).

Has the call for a UN tax body now gained renewed momentum after this year’s UNGA?  There is no doubt that while the Ecuadorian president made headlines across the globe, the report of the Independent expert provides strong language and argumentation, on why urgent action is needed in the area of taxation, and most importantly he exposes the strong link between taxation and human rights. Hopefully, we will see some of these implemented into concrete action at the UN level.

Overall, the Independent Expert recommends a number of actions that needs to be taken by both Governments, parliaments, CSOs, academics and the international community, but in short his recommendations can be summarised in the following manner;

The Independent Expert calls for resolute actions by the international community. Including through;

1.    The creation of a United Nations Tax Cooperation Body
2.    The adoption of a United Nations Tax Conventions
3.    The phasing out of tax havens
4.    A revision to include the obligations of corporations to pay their fair share of taxes
5.    The Adoption of a financial transactions tax  

Read the full report and the entire list of recommendations, as well as Oxfam's position on the establishment of a Global Tax Body.

(1): page 3, paragraph 2