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Use and abuse of tax breaks: how tax incentives become harmful

Taxation is essential to raise sufficient, equitable and accountable financing for development. Only through taxation can governments fund public spending on the essential services at the quality and scale necessary to realise the rights of all citizens. Yet many Southern governments decide not to tax certain corporations and companies in the hope that this will attract cross-border investment. Despite mounting evidence that the practice of offering tax incentives is both largely ineffective and detrimental to development, it is widespread. This report explains how tax incentives can become harmful, and discusses what can be done to stop their abuse.

Questionable Values? Policy Report

Why we believe that it is time to stop defending the indefensible across all the world’s tax havens. Following the hurricanes Irma and Maria that devastated a number of Caribbean islands in September this year, the focus has rightly been on supporting the hardest hit and those in greatest need. But as the rebuilding effort develops, many are starting to think more deeply about the long-term sustainability of these islands’ economies, and their ability to protect and provide for their populations in an economically and climatically uncertain future. What type of jobs, and what type of economy, should places such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) be looking to build? This is a question that extends beyond the storm-hit Caribbean. Defensive measures against tax evasion and avoidance are on the rise in the US, the EU and emerging economies, driven in part by the exposure of these activities in successive leaks of information (most recently, the Paradise Papers). Such developments call into question the sustainability of any economic model that relies on providing various combinations of secrecy and low taxation. So far, many small offshore centres, and their supporters, have largely reacted defensively to the threat of change, arguing that media coverage has unfairly maligned ‘tax havens’; that the problem is not as large as portrayed; and that they are already instituting tax and transparency standards better than many large ‘onshore’ economies. However, careful scrutiny of one of the most comprehensive efforts to explain the role of international finance centres and to illustrate the impact that such a territory has on the global economy – the prominent report that the government-backed financial lobby group, BVI Finance, commissioned this year from consultancy firm Capital Economics – demonstrates major weaknesses in the arguments and conclusions presented, and suggests to us that such defences are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than a genuine concern for the wider global economy. Our analysis of the Capital Economics report is an example of why we believe that it is time to stop defending the indefensible across all the world’s tax havens. With public demand building for new regulation, and the ever-present threat of further mass leaks, the UK Government needs to initiate a serious discussion about alternative economic pathways for the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Alternative futures for offshore tax havens are not only vital for the poorest countries of the world that lose tax revenues each year to the offshore system, but also for the ordinary women and men in places like the BVI, for whom a secure future is dependent on the creation of robust, equitable and sustainable economies.

Virtuous Circle: scaling up investment in low carbon energy

This report demonstrates that the time for rapid deployment of renewable energy technologies is now. It shows that governments, policy makers and investors should realise that clean energy and clean energy investments are reliable, cost effective and scalable, and a solution for delivering clean and sustainable energy for all.

Towards a sustainable economy: private sector

This report argues that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN Financing for Development process, and the Paris Agreement have opened up a dialogue between NGOs, governments and the private sector about the opportunities and risks around the transition to a sustainable economy.

Benefits? Tax Incentives in Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish)

Overview of the use of tax incentives that analyses whether or not tax incentives bring benefits to countries and communities.(Spanish)

Impuestos a hombres y mujeres: Por qué el enfoque de género es crucial para un régimen fiscal justo

Este trabajo tiene como objetivo estimular el debate y ofrecer orientación a los que intentan hacer un analisis de genero en su sistema fiscal. (Gender analysis of tax system in Spanish.)

Final evaluation of the LEARN project - Ghana

Action for Local Employment, Accountability and Resource Mobilisation (LEARN) was an EU-funded project in Ghana implemented by Christian Aid and its partners.The overall objective was to support actions aimed at promoting an inclusive and empowered Ghana.Action for Local Employment, Accountability and Resource Mobilisation (LEARN) was an EU-funded project in Ghana by Christian Aid and its partners.This report presents the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the project’s final evaluation.

Tax for the common good: a study of tax and morality

Christian Aid presents a theological and moral foundation for the campaign to promote tax justice. Many developing nations are seriously affected by the way in which some multinational companies manipulate their profits to allow them to pay little or no tax in the countries in which they are operating. As Esther Reed observes in her paper, this simply feels wrong to most people. These papers seek to explore what lies behind such a feeling and how it is anchored in some deep Christian instincts. They also set out to give a picture of what good, effective and just taxation might be like.We need to be a bit cautious when we speak about justice. Often we work with a simple idea of justice as ‘what is owed to someone or something’; and if that is all there is to it, there is going to be a risk of turning it into a rather thin concept, without much positive emotional content or spiritual significance. Walter Brueggemann, in his great Theology of the Old Testament, rightly insists that ‘justice’ in the Bible is about redistributing goods and power so that all may share what God has given the human race. This adds an important dimension of transformation to the picture. But it also needs a further dimension – a focus on just relationship – that is, not simply redistributed property and influence, but a positively renewed set of social interactions and mutual nurture.  Download the report to read the full analysis. 

Taxing men and women: why gender is crucial for a fair tax system (report)

This paper aims to stimulate debate and offer guidance to those attempting a gender analysis of their own tax system.

Losing out: Sierra Leone's massive revenue losses from tax incentives 

The first attempt in Sierra Leone to analyse the government's 'tax expenditure', showing these revenue losses are extremely large.  

Africa rising? Inequalities and the essential role of fair taxation

Joint report with Tax Justice Network Africa (TJN-A) reveals Africa's much-touted growth is happening alongside worsening income inequality trends.