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Tax justice and the Shawshank Redemption

By Matthew Cunningham | 10 December 2010

There's no doubt our Trace the Tax campaign has exceeded expectations in terms of the progress it's made so far, particularly in terms of politicians and business insiders supporting our view that tax justice is key to tackling global poverty.

So call me greedy, but why is it I can't stop thinking about The Shawshank Redemption?

(Spoiler alert! If you somehow haven't seen the 1994 film - and would like to - look away now.)

If you have seen it, you'll probably remember that it stars Tim Robbins as a man, wrongly imprisoned for murder, who digs his way to freedom and justice by using a tiny carving tool.

Chipping away. Bit by bit. For 20 years.

Heroic stuff. But really, really long-winded. And we could do with a bit of urgency.

As my colleague Alasdair blogged a few weeks ago, the issue of tax dodging continues to gain political traction, and the UK government seems to be taking it more and more seriously.

However, most of HM Treasury's attention seems to be focussed on the dent in UK tax revenue rather than the impact tax avoidance has on poor countries.

The latest news sees David Gauke, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, announcing a number of changes to legislation to tackle tax avoidance. These changes alone are expected to generate an additional £2 billion in revenue during the course of this parliament.

This follows on from Nick Clegg’s comments earlier in the year at the Liberal Democrat party conference where he outlined the coalition’s plans to tackle tax avoidance.

It’s great that the government is looking at the issue of tax dodging. We just want them to take a global perspective, too.

Our campaign has shown that developing countries lose an estimated $160 billion every year due to tax dodging by multinational companies.

And as our chief policy adviser, Alex Cobham, commented in Wednesday’s Financial Times, ‘... if the coalition government is serious about tackling [tax] avoidance, and serious about ensuring value for money for UK aid, it must take a lead in demanding that its own, welcome commitment to transparency is extended to the corporate sector through changes to international accounting standards.’

So, in short, it's great the government is getting tougher on tax dodging – but the world's poorest communities cannot wait 20 years.

What you can do

We need to keep pressing for change, and we believe big business has a crucial role to play.

Email our FTSE Four - Vodafone, Unilever, IHG and TUI Travel - and urge them to help poor countries trace the tax.

Act now


 About the author

Matthew Cunningham

Matthew Cunningham is a digital content editor