Tax. It's not much fun, is it? It's numbers and spread sheets and percentages. It's the sudden surprise VAT added to a new set of speakers as you attempt to check out.
It also happens to be one of the most powerful tools developing countries can use to lift themselves out of poverty. Tax pays for frivolous things like education, health care, transport and all that good stuff that keeps countries humming along.
Once, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (good name) was asked by a secretary 'Don't you hate to pay taxes?' to which the Supreme Court Justice replied ‘No, young feller. I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilisation!’
We all pay tax but you know who should pay A LOT of tax? Big multinational companies who operate in countries worldwide. The amount of money they should pay in tax is significant, particularly when considering developing countries. That kind of money could make a big difference. A transformational one.
Which is why it's so wrong that many of those same companies use every trick in the book to avoid paying what they owe, where it's needed most. Using strong accountant kung fu (nattily named techniques such as phantom firms and transfer mispricing, to name a few) they are able to declare their profits in places that don't have any corporation tax to speak of. Bingo, they get massive profits and pay no tax on it!
It's important to note that many of these practices are entirely legal (if a little underhand). It's called tax avoidance, as opposed to the even more dastardly (and absolutely illegal) tax evasion.
As a student/university graduate you're in the rather enviable position of getting a say in how your university spends its cash. And universities are big spenders - they have all sorts of contracts for building stuff, cleaning things, feeding you and serving you alcohol. Those are big contracts, worth a lot of money, and the giant multinational corporations want that money.
In other news, the government have recently published a set of questions on tax compliance that they intend to use for big government contracts. Universities don't have to use them, but they absolutely can. So wouldn't it be great if your university started asking some pointed tax questions of the companies they are looking to work with? Wouldn't it be great if any multinational that wanted to get its hands on those juicy contracts had to come right out and say what their tax practices were?
The questions are already written. They just need people to insist we use them.
As a member of the student union, or a university graduate, you are able to exert a lot of pressure on your university's procurement department - either through your executive or directly with the vice chancellor. You can also lobby your MP to support the campaign.
SPEAK has produced a Pray & Post action card to send to your university, in partnership with the Christian Aid Collective, to do just this! Contact us for more Pray & Post action cards.
Praying for tax justice:
- Read Luke 20 prayerfully and ask Jesus to teach you what He wants to through it about the way He handled those in power, and managed to turn situations around with perceptive questions.
- Not at uni? You can still pray – maybe focus on your local university, or your former uni if you’ve graduated. Pray for students there to be empowered, and the university to make just decisions about the companies they deal with. If you’re local, perhaps go for a walk around the grounds to focus your mind to pray.
- Spend a day keeping track of all the different companies and brands that you use – perhaps list them, or even gather a collection of objects that represent them (packaging, labels, receipts etc?). At the end of the day go through the list and pray over how you can encourage those companies to act justly.
- Hold a letter writing evening with your SPEAK group, church group or friends – write your own letters in your own words based on this Pray & Post to increase your impact. If you’re not at uni, you could write to your local council with the same asks.
- Think up a creative action or stunt that could raise awareness of the issue on your campus to get other students on board with the campaign. How can we communicate the message creatively?