Ever wondered what makes tax dodging and money laundering so easy for the rich? It’s the bankers, lawyers and accountants who devise complex schemes to help their clients evade taxes or launder dirty money that really run the tax avoidance industry. They lurk in a murky underworld of the financial system and it is crucial their activities are exposed. While attention has been focused on the corporations themselves Greens have always insisted that the professionals who encourage tax avoidance should be tackled too.
Back in January, together with other Greens in the European Parliament, I published a report on the activities of these intermediaries. Based on the data from the Panama Papers, Bahamas Leaks and Offshore Leaks, the research showed that the vast majority of the intermediaries named in the leaks have a base in the EU. Tax havens are not distant, palm-fringed islands, but our own countries. Shamefully, the United Kingdom emerged as the EU's favourite base for tax avoidance. Among the middlemen are large banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse or Citibank but also law firms and accounting giants.
I'm delighted to say that the Commission has now focused attention on this issue and they will be producing a proposal on Wednesday to shine a light onto the tax middlemen. Since it is intermediaries like banks, accountants or lawyers who advise their clients and devise complex schemes to evade taxes or launder dirty money it is essential that they are required disclose to tax authorities the arrangements they offer to their clients. We are going to be putting pressure on the UK government to agree this proposed directive as quickly as possible – and to stick to these higher standards of transparency after Brexit.
The citizens who are outraged by the burgeoning tax avoidance industry require nothing less from their elected representatives.
This blog was originally published on BlogActiv.EU and was authored by Bristol's MEP, Molly Scott Cato and some Green colleagues in the European Parliament:
7th of April marks World’s Health Day. This year this day is a bit special: it follows the 150th anniversary of the Swiss company Nestlé. The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament decided to commemorate – so to speak – both, with a letter to one of the biggest food giants on the planet.
Their slogan is ‘Good Food. Good Life’ but you may not know that Nestlé is also a key global player in the bottled water business. And access to clean drinking water, in Europe and beyond, is a priority for our group: we believe access to quality water is a human right.
More than 600 million people around the world still don’t have access to clean drinking water, according to the UN. Yet, there are still profitable businesses out there that make money by bottling water resources and selling them to people. This business model is called privatisation of a natural and vital resource. In the global bottled water market, Nestlé represents 11 to 13%, the biggest part of the pie. In Europe, they outnumber Group Danone and Coca Cola.
We are deeply concerned by the role large multinational companies play in influencing a growing number of such privatisation policies of water resources around the globe. On this matter, 2 million European citizens signed the very first European Citizens Initiative “Right2Water,” which was denouncing water privatisation.
So why write to Nestlé on the World Health Day? Universal access to health means access to clean natural resources for everyone. It also depends on universal access to robust healthcare systems, based on solidarity and fair distribution of wealth. And this means tax justice, one of our political priorities. We have a track record of exposing – IKEA, BASF, Zara (Inditex) – accounting tricks that corporate giants use to reduce their tax contributions, to the detriment of the rest of society (small & medium companies, citizens) who are left paying the gap.
So what about Nestlé’s tax policies? In 2014 Jean-Marc Duvoisin, CEO of Nestlé’s brand Nespresso, said in an interview: “we should pay taxes wherever we have to pay taxes”. We could not agree more! But our preliminary research indicates that Nestlé might not be paying taxes “wherever it needs to pay taxes” and seems to suggest that the company is actually engaged in large-scale profit-shifting and tax avoidance.
There is evidence of large and various kinds of intra-company payments (royalties and interest) which can be abused to significantly reduce the taxation of certain subsidiaries. And we also found structures consistent with classic tax avoidance strategies, for example, holding companies and internal finance operations organized through the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. For example, from 2009 to 2014, an internal financing subsidiary in Belgium paid virtually no tax on €660 million in income, derived primarily from interest on intra-company loans.
As Nestlé was celebrating its 150th anniversary this week, we wanted to put up a solemn request, as appropriate for a jubilee: can Nestlé – with so many decades of experience – make the commitment to support, and fully implement, public country by country reporting
By providing greater transparency on its tax affairs, Nestlé would have the chance to be a first mover and to set an agenda for stronger corporate social responsibility. That would be a fantastic gift for all its consumers for its 151th birthday!
This post was originally posted on Bristol's MEP, Molly Scott Cato's Facebook page. Click here to stay up-to-date with Molly's work:
With so much gloom around it’s great to be able to share news of a historic move against tax evasion and financial crimes. And Greens were instrumental in bringing this about.
This morning the economic and legal committees in the European Parliament jointly voted to support the strengthening of the anti-money-laundering directive. This is a piece of European law that requires financial and legal companies to be transparent about how rich people are moving their money from country to country. It also includes the proposal for a ‘beneficial ownership register’ meaning that rich people cannot hide their money in closed trusts so that nobody knows who benefits from what.
Some wealthy people have earned their money legitimately. But the title of the law makes clear this is about clamping down on illegal flows of money and global gangsters getting away with murder. Since much of this ‘dirty money’ is cleansed through the London property market I was delighted that a Green proposal to strengthen controls on that activity was passed.
Greens have led on this agenda. Strangely, we get really excited about these technical, legal, economic files! So much so that Green MEPs and advisors were all at the committee meeting at 8am this morning, bright as buttons, eager to start voting! Most of the Green proposals to strengthen the legislation went through, with the right wing losing the majority of votes for a change. Our legal advisor Aleksys was crouched on the floor behind me, punching the air and shouting ‘Yes!’ from time to time. Yes, really!
While checking how the different groups were voting I noticed how empty were the seats reserved for far right and even farther right MEPs. Their votes were literally in all directions and it was clear they didn’t have a clue what was going on.
This was legislation to ensure that taxes are paid so that health and social services can be properly funded. They didn’t turn up and didn’t understand how to vote. As they spend their staff budgets on people working in the constituency to destroy the EU perhaps this is not surprising. But it is deeply disappointing to the many people in the UK and across Europe who put their trust in them.
The world and Britain are in crisis. We all know this. 2016 will surely go down in history as a watershed year - and not in a good way. We had the devastation in Syria and its tragic victims and its refugee consequences, we had Brexit (on a narrow majority vote), and then Trump's 'election' (on a minority vote). It continues into 2017 with Trump's inauguration and the House of Commons voting by a big majority (thanks to Labour) to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the process of taking us out of the European Union.
The Labour Party are quite frankly a disgrace. Jeremy Corbyn himself is totally unfit to be the leader of a once-great party and is a betrayer of socialism: for him to impose a three line whip on his Labour MPs in the Article 50 vote was quite simply undemocratic and deeply anti-socialist. Some might even describe it as Stalinist. And irony of ironies, the three line whip was to support a right-wing Tory government! There were a few lame attempts by Labour to make some amendments to the Bill, but none were passed and Labour MPs were under specific instructions not to delay passage of the Bill or the triggering of Article 50 by the Tory Prime Minister's deadline. If this wasn't collusion with this right-wing Conservative government I don't know what is. Shameful, shameful Labour inaction, and apparently led by a leader who is the supposed darling of the Labour Party Left. Corbyn has no interest in this country: he is only interested in pushing through his outdated narrow 19th century socialist view regardless of today's reality, because he sees the EU as a capitalist economic conspiracy. He just doesn't seem to understand that modern communications and the internet have totally changed the world since Marx and Lenin, that neoliberal capitalism is now a global phenomenon and that globalisation is the reality which exists much more outside the EU than within it, so that getting rid of the EU itself would solve nothing from a socialist perspective. In this regard, the EU is all but irrelevant. But the EU is highly relevant when it comes to protecting workers' rights and the environment, a fact which Corbyn entirely ignores in his blinkered outmoded 'socialism'.
And not only over Brexit has Labour totally failed. The UK is in crisis. The NHS is completely falling apart before our eyes. The social care system is fast becoming non-existent as more care homes disappear and the cost becomes unaffordable to the many, whilst councils repeatedly have their budgets slashed by central government so that they are unable to fulfil their functions properly and are forced into continual fire-fighting. The trains are ridiculously expensive, overcrowded, and not fit for purpose, so that our public transport system is broken, just like our prison system which sees prisoners running amok in overcrowded understaffed prisons so that neither prisoners nor staff feel safe, and prisoners have virtually no hope of rehabilitation nor any future. We have the most serious housing crisis in living memory, with the cost of accommodation, whether to rent or to buy, rapidly escalating out of reach of more and more people, and nothing is being done about it. Teachers are overwhelmed with work, again underfunded and trying to do the impossible with inadequate resources. This is a real national crisis; all our public sevices are in dire straits: housing, the NHS, social care, education, public transport, the criminal justice system. And what do we hear from the Tory government? Nothing. A big fat zero. Except to blame the public for too many of us wanting to use the trains, too many of us wanting to use our GPs and A&E departments - yes, it's all our fault folks! Of course, it's nothing to do with the government and its refusal to fund public services in any way properly, and it making continual cuts under its austerity progarmme. What do we hear from central government? A snapshot last week, when the 'Health Secretary' Jeremy Hunt (I'd like to call him something else) was interviewed about the long delays of people waiting in A&E departments for a bed: 'yes, it is unacceptable' he robustly declared......and then nothing. So what was he as the Health Secretary going to do about it? Nothing. Platitudes and comments and absolutely no action, burying his head completely in the sand, just like Theresa May and the rest of her ministers like the smug and useless Transport Secretary Chris Toff Grayling. They refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong and so what do we hear? A deafening silence. About everything. Nero fiddling while Rome burns comes to mind.
Worst of all, where is the Opposition? There isn't any at all. What do we hear from the Labour Party? A deafening silence. Just like the Tories. With all the problems I mention above going on, the Labour Party should be having a field day crucifying the Tory government both in and out of parliament. But their silence is not just extremely embarrassing, it is downright unforgiveable. If, as I suspect, we are beginning to see the end of the Labour Party as a serious electoral force, they have only themselves to blame: inept, inadequate, and indescribably lame. Only Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, is speaking out, but even he is only really doing so on Brexit, which of course is a cause dear to Liberal hearts.
So where do we go from here? Well, perhaps it's not all doom and gloom: one positive (in a paradoxically negative sort of way!) is that there are signs that at last people are beginning not just to be angry, but to start taking action. There is a big demonstration taking place in London on Saturday 25th March to protest against Brexit, and there is also an equally big demonstration taking place across Britain to save the NHS. Across the USA - and indeed the world - spontaneous demonstrations against Trump were held on the day of his inauguration. These are positive signs that the three 'A's are coming together: traditional Apathy is leading to widespread Anger and now to Action.
So all this presents a golden opportunity for the Green Party. Molly Scott Cato and Caroline Lucas are the only politicians speaking out about the lack of action by government on all these issues. Brexit to be sure, like Tim Farron, but unlike him, Molly, Caroline, and Jean Lambert (Green MEP for London) are speaking out also about refugees, about housing and all the other issues. It is incumbent on Greens to speak out and hold the government to account for its woeful inaction on the state of the very fabric of all our public services. In the face of Labour's total lack of opposition to the Tory government, Greens must become the Opposition. But Molly and Caroline can't do it alone. Our councillors are doing sterling work, but it is up to us all to help them and for us all, as Greens, to make loud noises, write to the Post and the media, hassle our MPs, Labour and Tory. Make our voices heard. Because Corbyn's Labour isn't up to the job, and they should be ashamed of themselves. But if we do the job well, we may indeed see not just Molly, but other Greens in the House of Commons as well. And then we really will start to see Green influence exerted where it matters most - at national level.
This blog post gives the reasons that Green councillor Charlie Bolton has given for objecting to the Pring and St Hill Rollo homes development.
16/06785/F | Redevelopment to provide 217no. apartments in a 6-10 storey building with associated parking and hard/soft landscape works (Major application). | Pring And St Hill Ltd Malago Road Bristol BS3 4JH
I would like to lodge an objection to this application for the following reasons:
- Lack of affordable housing
I regard the lack of affordable housing in this development as completely unacceptable
- Lack of a plan for the area as a whole and what seems to be turning into an active free-for-all
I raised questions with the previous mayor - with no satisfactory response - about concerns that I and other residents have over the huge increase in numbers of residences in that part of Bedminster. There seems to be no consideration of the impact of these on schools, and a whole range of community facilities. It is as though it is Bedminster and no one cares.
- Meaning a lack of local services to go with a considerable increase in population
- Suggestion that this is turning into a free-for-all which will combine the worst elements of all applications
As many of us know, URBIS at least had a master plan for the area. But if other developers can wade in and buy individual plots and come up with their own plans renders this plan more or less meaningless
- Assurances that St Catherines was an enabler which would lead to considerable affordable housing in the other developments which seem to be disappearing into the sunset
I supported the previous development at St Catherines Place. I supported it - at least partly on the understanding that it would act as an enabler - meaning that approval would lead to significant amounts of affordable housing in the remaining development. I note that Rollo homes use St Catherines as a precedent for the height of their proposals, then they should take the full precedent on board and include affordable housing.
- Poor community involvement
I see the developers report states:
In this instance the development of the site has been the subject of two initial planning
permissions with extensive consultation, the draft Bedminster Green Framework
included the site and was the subject of extensive consultation and the current proposal was presented to the local BS3 Planning Group.
I understand that URBIS have responded to the effect:
' I have read the documentation provided to support this application and noted that it makes numerous references to the Bedminster Green Framework. For clarity I must confirm that this application does not form part of the overall strategy and framework plan proposed to the council in the referenced Pre-App document and is an independent application for a standalone site. As such it does not reflect the the consultations previously carried out in relation to the Pre-App.'
The developers SCI says:
The BS3 Group is made up of local councillors, voluntary and community organisations,
private businesses and public agencies within the Bristol wards of Southville, Bedminster.
This isn't true. The neighbourhood partnership is made up of these people and organisations. The BS3 planning group is one of the groups that feeds into the partnership, and is made up of those who are interested in planning issues.
This report also states:
The physical model as well as the 3-D model were presented and viewed at the
BS3 Group meetings and at the Members Briefing
I'm not sure what a Members briefing is, but I was not invited to any such event. I have spoken to one of the Windmill Hill councillors who has also had no contact with the developers of this plan. Nor have I.
- Potential air/noise pollution impacts on residents and neighbours
The site is located on Malago Road. Given that Bedminster Parade has air pollution levels which break EU annual limits, as does Parson St. One has to suspect that this location will also break air pollution limits.
Having visited the site recently, I was also aware of the level of noise. Both of these need to be addressed
- Lighting impacts on neighbours
I have been told of concerns from neighbours over the over-shadowing impact of the flats, particularly on the flats on Malago Road. It may be that such a large development will also have impacts on other aspects of neighbours health.
- Height / breaking council policy -
It has been suggested to me that the proposal breaks council policy on heights of buildings. I am aware that this is a particular concern for many.
From a personal point of view, I don't know that I object to the height per se (although I might well if I had to look at it). I do increasingly suspect that a tall building will result in low levels of recycling, simply because people will have to go further to recycle. (I can't prove this though).
- Increase in numbers of vehicles locally
I am aware of residents who regard this as a particular concern. From a Southville ward point of view, I might suggest that RPS permits are not issued with the development. That obviously doesn't help those in Windmill Hill.
- Ugly design at least at base
I'm told that the design at the base of the is of some sort of aluminium finish. I am unable to access docuents via the planning portal at the time of writing, so cannot confirm this. But it sounds pretty ugly.
- The fact that it is a tall block all the way through and will block any views ie density