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The dance and the Portuguese revolution

By David McNair | 5 July 2010

A week or two ago I was sitting in the offices of a tax lawyer at United Nations Plaza in New York.

A guy who has worked in international finance for years but has been a long time campaigner for financial integrity - from the inside.

He told me that he has two theories of change: the dance and the Portuguese revolution.

I smiled at the novelty of the idea but was a bit confused to be honest.

Then he explained 'the dance'. Things happen step by step. Looking back on a decade or more of campaigning he has seen slow incremental progress towards a more just and transparent tax system.

And what about the Portuguese revolution?

Well, some things happen unexpectedly and result in rapid change. Like the financial crisis of 2008, which has shaken up the world of economics and finance to think in new and fundamentally different ways.

Why am I telling you this?

Well currently, the International Accounting Standards Board - a private body with the potential to reform international standards for the benefit of poor people - is slowly moving. 

Under pressure from NGOs it is now considering an international accounting standard for country by country reporting.

This would require extractive companies to be transparent and accountable for their operations at a country level. This is pretty significant given the unwillingness of the IASB to listen to NGOs in the past.

Of course this needs to go further which is why Christian Aid is campaigning for a standard for all companies... not just extractives.

At the moment the IASB aren't willing to consider it. But with the EU and the G20 increasingly leaning on them to consider the views of a broad section of society things may well change... if we keep up the pressure.

It's easy for campaigners to get frustrated at the slow progress of change. But if you do, remember the dance and the Portugeese revolution.

 About the author

David McNair

David McNair is our senior economic justice adviser