By Adam George
Cardiff residents concerned about spiralling global inequality can find out how ordinary people around the world are fighting to close the gap between the haves and have nots, at a free event organised by Oxfam and ActionAid on Thursday [23 February]. The event starts at 6pm and is being supported by Gair Rhydd.
The event will feature two activists, one from Kenya and one from Nigeria. They will be discussing life in their home countries where despite fast-growing economies, millions of people still remain in poverty. Inequality is blatantly visible in these countries with wealthy neighbourhoods sitting alongside slums with no access to electricity or clean water.
Last month Oxfam revealed that eight billionaires now possess the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. The charity has warned that a distorted economic model allows an extreme concentration of wealth at the top and traps millions in poverty.
A network of tax havens fuels this inequality – with poor countries losing at least $170bn each year because tax payments that are owed by companies and wealthy individuals are hidden in tax havens.
Gair Rhydd spoke to Matthew Hemsley, Oxfam Cymru’s Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, who said “It’s shocking that one in nine people go to bed hungry while a handful of billionaires have more than they can spend. It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re calling for world leaders to fix our economies so they work for everyone and bring the end of poverty closer. We need policies to ensure that workers get a fair wage, big companies pay their fair share of tax, and women get a fair chance to realise their potential.”
It is very clear that a global network of tax havens has fuelled inequality around the world with poor countries losing out on around £135 billion ($170 billion) each year because companies and the super-rich dodge paying their fair share of taxes. This money could, and should, be used to fund schools and hospitals.
One of the speakers at the event is Wanjiru Kanyiha, a lawyer from Kenya. Wanjiru is involved in various programmes in Kenya, one being Inuka [Rise Up] – a non-governmental organisation involved specifically in corruption, with an emphasis on working for ordinary Kenyans. Wanjiru is a champion for the use of social media for advocacy, campaigning and catalyzing discourse for social change.
Gair Rhydd asked Wanjiru why she cared about social justice and she told us “I care about tax justice because it impacts directly on people’s lives and livelihoods. Unfair tax systems tend to oppress the poor in society, denying them even their basic human needs. For me it is therefore about human dignity first.”
When we asked her what her motivation was for speaking on the tax tour she said “I was motivated to speak on the tax tour because I believe the tour shall give me an international platform to talk about tax justice and the effects of tax evasion on a developing nation such as Kenya, as we seek both national and international solutions to ending the Illicit Financial Flows that cost Kenya and Africa billions of dollars each year.”
Wanjiru also suggested that the tour gave her a chance to deliver a message to MPs here in the UK. She said “The message I hope to deliver is appealing to the MPs to collaborate with our governments and other NGOs and international players to end harmful tax competition, Illicit Financial Flows, and regressive reforms to the current global tax system that facilitate tax avoidance and are biased towards wealthy countries, corporations, and the wealthy elite.”
The other speaker at the event is Onyinye Okechukwi, campaigner for ActionAid Nigeria. Onyi has previously worked in the women’s right movement across West Africa, and is very skilful at linking tax and women’s rights issues. She also spoke to Gair Rhydd and told us her reasons for caring about tax justice. “Campaigning about tax justice for me is like providing lifeline to millions of Nigerians who are wallowing in unimaginable levels of poverty.”
Onji went on to explain her motivation for taking part in the tour. “This is an opportunity for me to be a voice for the poor women who are dying in childbirth and the 10 million Nigerian children who are out of school because the government has given away resources meant to provide them with these basic life necessities.”
The activists are calling on the UK Government to help close loopholes in global tax laws so that poor countries can claim what they are owed. Four countries linked to the UK, including Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, have been labelled among the world’s worst tax havens.
The week-long tour begins in Edinburgh today and also includes Oxford, Manchester and London.