• Shining a Light on the G20

    Posted by Ben

    3 November, 2014

    In a world where we are constantly inundated with news and information, there are many times when we see or hear something and think, I wonder what that’s about? I’ll research it later. Of course, later never arrives because amongst the busyness of our lives it completely slips our minds, until we come across it again and think, I never did get around to researching that. I’ll make sure I look at it later. And the cycle continues.

    So, this blog is for those of you who have come across vague rumblings or mentions of a little something called the G20, but despite your best intentions have yet to find out exactly what it is, why it’s important, and why it’s relevant to you. 

    The G20 – What’s it all about? 

    Made up of 19 of the world’s most economically powerful nations along with the European Union, altogether the G20 represents around two-thirds of the world’s population and that are responsible for three-quarters of all global trade. Leaders and ministers of the G20 meet annually to discuss and respond to global challenges, including transparency and anti-corruption, inclusive and sustainable human development, environmental protection and just stewardship of resources. The G20 leaders will be meeting in Brisbane this November 14-16.

    What’s at stake?

    This agenda for the G20 this year includes action to crack down on tax dodging by multinational companies and wealthy individuals. This could be truly transformational if it leads to increased transparency and more revenue for developing countries.

    Transforming global tax rules and tackling tax dodging by multinational companies and wealthy individuals could have a lasting impact on revenues for the poorest countries – who are robbed of around $1 trillion each year through illicit financial flows.

    The amount of money at stake dwarfs the global aid budget ($128 billion) and represents a more sustainable source of finance than aid for poverty reduction and sustainable development efforts.
    Global finance and tax rules and structures make it relatively easy for the corrupt to use anonymous shell companies to launder money or hide away stolen assets. The global nature of multinational companies coupled with a lack of transparency makes it possible for many of these businesses to artificially shift their profits away from places where they do their business and store it in low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions (often known as tax havens or “secrecy jurisdictions”).

    Christian Aid has estimated that developing countries lost $160 billion in 2008 from just two of the most extreme and illegal forms of tax evasion by multinational companies. If this money had been available and utilised by these governments in the same proportions and according to the same priorities as their current expenditure – it could have saved the lives of 350,000 children in one year alone.

    The G20 has taken steps to begin to tackle this problem. They’ve established a global standard for the automatic exchange of tax information – which will allow countries to more easily identify when their citizens are making investments or moving money into other countries. This is important, because the first step in stopping tax dodging and illicit financial flows is to be able to identify it when it happens.

    The G20 will set out principles so that every anonymous company, trust or foundation can be traced to the flesh-and-blood person (or people) who controls or benefits from that company. 

    The G20 could also tackle multinational tax dodging by requiring all multinational companies to report their operations, taxes owed and taxes paid on a country by country basis – rather than on the globally or regionally aggregated basis on which they currently report. You can find out more about these policies at http://www.micahchallenge.org.au/shine-the-light-policies.

    What can we do?

    Changing global tax rules so that they benefit the poor is no small feat. The rules are complex and interact with national tax systems, as well as bilateral and multilateral treaties. The wealthiest individuals and corporations have an interest in preserving the status quo.

    So raising our voices for change is important for achieving long-lasting impact. Governments have recognised the need to act. Now citizens need to empower them to act and hold their feet to the fire to ensure those actions truly benefit the poorest people.

    Here are four things we can do:

    1) Get informed.
    Talking about complex tax matters tends to lead to glazed eyes and a sudden recollection of other, more interesting tasks. Yet it’s vital that we understand the system which helps to enrich the very few, while stripping revenue and making and keeping many people poor.
    It’s also not actually that hard to get your head around. The simplest introduction to the issues and actions we can take to shine the light on tax dodging and corruption is available at www.micahchallenge.org.au/shine-the-light.

    2) Get active.
    Go to www.shinethelight.com.au and join thousands of others around the world who have uploaded a photo of themselves shining a light, and sent a message to your MP and the Treasurer.
    Once you’ve sent your message, choose the next step and take it – remembering to pray constantly as you speak and act out.

    3) Get a group together.
    Stage a service, sermon or Bible reflection with your church. Run the Tax Heaven simulation game with your youth group. Take a group to meet with your Federal MP to discuss the issues. Everything you need to engage others in the campaign is available at www.micahchallenge.org.au/shine-the-light-resources.

    4) Pray for 'Shine the Light' Brisbane & the G20 Summit
    This weekend, one week prior to G20 Leaders’ Summit, churches across Brisbane are banding together for a weekend of worship, action and advocacy to G20 leaders. For more details about what we'll be doing in Brisbane click here.

    Please join us, and Christians all over the world, in praying for this coming weekend and the G20 Summit using our '10 Days of Prayer to Change the World - G20 Prayer Guide'.


           Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia.