Matti Kohonen, Principal Advisor, Christian Aid

In October 2015 Christian Aid, ShareAction and IBIS hosted a conference in London to introduce the Tax Dialogue approach to UK-based businesses and investors.

The idea was to learn from the good experience in Denmark, while finding a role for Christian Aid, ShareAction and other NGOs in the already crowded market place of ideas on responsible taxation in the UK that include (just to mention a few) the CoVi-led and KPMG funded Responsible Tax for the Common Good project, Responsible 100 benchmark, the Fair Tax Mark and companies associated with it as well as dialogue opportunities at the St. Martins in the Field Church in central London. 

Setting the stage

The event itself had a number of developing country participants in the panels, including one where Juan Carlos Campuzano from the Ecuadorian Tax Authority, who explained how there is a move by corporate taxpayers in Ecuador from resistance to a place where the overall support and burden of evidence is in favour or transparent practices. This has led to simplified tax systems in the banana export sector, and they are now looking to applying it to the exports of shrimps and more complex sectors such as pharmaceuticals.

The big question at the event was whether the OECD BEPS project was going to deliver this information to the Ecuadorian tax authority, or whether he’d still have to ask the headquarters of big companies abroad to hand it on a case-by-case basis. Big companies in the panel, including SAB Miller and Maersk both reflected on how they came to see responsible taxation as part of their business model, and how tax practitioners in companies have a much more public role in explaining their work – something unheard of just a few years ago.

The company perspective

A lot more has happened since the conference on responsible taxation in the UK, including the publication of a joint discussion paper by ActionAid, Christian and Oxfam in November 2015 titled ‘Getting to Good’ highlighted eight propositions where companies can address their responsibility, while a coalition of responsible investors at UN PRI published an ‘Engagement Guide on Corporate Tax Responsibility;  showing many examples where companies that are household names have been exposed in the press for poor tax conduct, and proposes greater disclosure of tax payments, but also greater attention of tax risk by company boards.

The Tax Dialogue UK on the basis of its initial conference in 2015 will concentrate specifically on the role of developing countries, and thus looking at companies with large operations in the global South, as well as looking at the role of trade associations and business organisations in the debate – something that was also becoming more prominent in the UK.  Two workshop sessions are planned in 2016 as well as a sector-wide conference either in the end of 2016 or early 2017.