Secrecy is a notorious facilitator of crime – whether war crimes, crimes against humanity, or massive economic crimes including blackmail, bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and money-laundering.
Whistleblowers are essential to democratic society, because both governments and the private sector dissimulate or hide criminal acts and unethical behaviour. Pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all persons have a right to know what their governments and their corporate leaders are doing – and how. Absurdly enough, whistleblowers are frequently prosecuted, while the perpetrators of the crimes enjoy impunity. That is why I reiterate my call for the adoption of Charter of Rights of Whistleblowers and for accountability of government officials and private sector actors for their crimes and abuses.
Tax evasion, sometimes called “tax optimization” is theft on society and impacts everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. When a fair share of taxes is not paid, the State cannot afford essential services including education at all levels, maintenance of infrastructure, healthcare, housing development, job-creation and eradication of extreme poverty. Hence, tax avoidance and tax fraud constitute not only crimes, but also violations of fundamental human rights.
Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are genuine human rights defenders who deserve our gratitude. But what are the consequences of their revelations? Will anyone be prosecuted? Will Parliaments adopt legislation to prohibit and criminalize the registration of shell companies, the shifting of profits and tax havens?
Several of my reports to the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly address these abuses. Allow me to quote from my 2016 report to the General Assembly:
“The art of creating “unreality”: innovative schemes by major accounting firms
Global auditing firms are the architects of offshore banking. The ICIJ website offers the following account: For more than a decade, PricewaterhouseCoopers helped Caterpillar move profits produced in the United States to a tiny subsidiary in Switzerland. Although parts were shipped from suppliers to the United States and then shipped from the warehouse to independent dealers, the profits were booked by the Swiss subsidiary, which paid corporate taxes of less than 6 per cent a year, far lower than Caterpillar’s 29 percent rate in the United States. By 2008, partners at the accounting firm worried that the strategy might be threatened by Caterpillar’s decision to move some managers to the United States, a shift that would underline the parts business’ small footprint in Switzerland. A PricewaterhouseCoopers partner who had helped design the tax-savings plan wrote to a colleague that they needed to “create a story” that “put some distance” between the managers and the spare-parts business. The colleague noted that, in any case, both would be retired before the strategy came up for audit…. An investigation revealed that the accounting firm had exploited legal loopholes to help Caterpillar shift $8 billion in paper profits from the United States to Switzerland, reducing the equipment maker ’s United States tax bill by $2.4 billion…”
My report concluded: “Tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax havens deprive countries of revenue needed to fulfil human rights treaty obligations, alleviate poverty, improve the administration of justice, ensure that remedies are available to victims of human rights violations, build infrastructures, create jobs and provide social security, quality health services and free education. Because the tax activities of domestic and transnational corporations have significant direct and indirect socioeconomic impacts, a binding legal instrument on corporate social responsibility stipulating the obligation to pay taxes where the profits are generated and a prohibition on shifting profits should be adopted. This would encourage responsible tax behaviour that does not harm global financial stability, development and human rights. While the end of tax havens is not in sight, Governments are gradually coming to realize that it is in their own interest to phase out secrecy jurisdictions. An international tax convention is necessary to stop competition among tax jurisdictions and abolish secrecy.” (https://undocs.org/A/71/286)
My new book “Building a Just World Order” addresses these issues in chapter 9 and in the 25 Principles of International order . https://www.claritypress.com/product/building-a-just-world-order/
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