Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rattle and bang

Polly Toynbee has written a fine new article in The Guardian about just the things TJN cares most about. A first thing to note is this: watch this space, for, as Polly notes,

"On Monday the Guardian reports on its investigation which reveals corporate tax avoidance on a gargantuan scale. . . . Delving into the truth of company taxes has taken the Guardian team months of digging, talking to whistle-blowers, and following the knotted strings that lead through a labyrinth of subsidiaries in secretive tax havens. As the story of each famous company unfolds, keep your eye fixed on every twist and turn. You will go on a journey through the minds of people who have wasted their talents on making others pay for everything that makes Britain the safe, civilised, beautiful, enjoyable place where these company directors wish to live and bring up their families."

This is just what we've been fighting to bring about: global attention to the shocking scale of what's been going on. In the media field, the Guardian is leading the charge (an honourable mention goes to the satirical British magazine Private Eye, which has been purusing this kind of stuff for years - please let us know if there are others (not blogs) you think we should mention. Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor, recently wrote in the New York Review of Books about the newspaper's libel fight against the mighty retailer Tesco, saying that

"the advanced tax planning undertaken today by most global companies is as intelligible to the average person as particle physics," (find this and plenty more like it on our quotations page)

and noting that merely checking the truth of a story in the Private Eye story which backed the Guardian's legal case against Tesco cost an astonishing $17,000. So hats off to The Guardian for pursuing this with a vengeance - precious few others seem to be doing so. For aficionados, you can follow their special tax avoidance page here.

Please read the whole of Toynbee's story, which isn't that long. TJN talks to her from time to time (though not, as far as today's blogger is aware, on this particular story, though we are mentioned in another Guardian story today.) We'll leave you with her parting paragraph, which is something we've been going on about for years:

Corporate social responsibility" becomes an oxymoron when top companies who avoid so much tax parade policy documents adorned with pictures of wind turbines, smiling black faces and laughing children labelled "sustainability", "diversity" and "community". Many do good charitable work; but what is the use of boasting that "We are a good corporate citizen", or "Our core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people are at the heart of how we manage our business", while going to grotesque lengths to push their tax responsibility on to the rest of the "community"? The way to prove they are the "good corporate citizen" they claim to be is by paying the modest 28% that is the starting rate for all companies. Maybe culture change won't happen until we get out there with saucepans to rattle and bang some shame into those inside corporate headquarters.

Well said, and may the rest of the world's media follow suit.

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