Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Helsinki calls for financial transparency

The city of Helsinki, known for its global leadership in matters of peace and security in convening the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1975 that by signing the Helsinki Declaration helped to put an end to the Cold War (having the Eastern Block sign up to human rights), has now looked into yet another peace and security threat in the form of secrecy jurisdictions. Times certainly are 'a changin'!

When the city sat down to discuss its 2009-2012 strategy, a motion was passed on the 29.4. to ban co-operation with "financial havens" in particular, as banking and finance was identified as the key culprit to the financial crisis. The neighbouring municipality of Espoo had heavily invested in Kauphting junk bonds for instance. The text reads as follows (available in Finnish, see motion 17, and a rough Google translation can also be accessed):

"The Helsinki city council requires that the city in accordance to its global responsibility does not co-operate with financial institutions who own subsidiaries in the so-called financial havens. The city engages in active co-operation with other cities and civil society organisations, both nationally and internationally, in order to curb the "grey" economy and promote transparency in all economic activities".
This is an open invitation for global civil society to get in touch with the city of Helsinki, once the strategy is published and implemented towards the opening of the political season this autumn.

Local campaigns against tax havens are also picking up in Sweden and France. In France, a label called "sans paradis fiscaux" is being planned by the French anti-secrecy jurisdition coalition
Plateforme Paradis Fiscaux et Judiciaires to be launched during the summer season. This label would especially be used for public procurement, and later maybe for ethical investments.

In Sweden the city of Kalmar is investigating the legality of a procurement clause banning co-operation with companies who don't honour their tax obligations in all the countries in which they operate. Indeed Kalmar should ask the EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes (Dutch Liberal), however, forcing companies to pay their taxes should not be seen as hampering competition, quite the opposite - any companies dodging taxes should be vehemently chased by Ms. Kroes by anti-trust measures!

Other initiatives could include the inclusion of "SJ-free" (a bit like non-toxic food isn't it?) measures to be included in ethical investment policies, and in particular to fair-trade rules that currently have a significant market share in the banana market for instance, where according to the Guardinan 45% of value is added in SJs.

All of these labels and initiatives do need both a solid data base, and secondly adequately staffed and resourced rating agencies to take on the task of labelling individual companies to this effect. The FLO-CERT could take on this task, as they already label fair-trade goods, but so could any other agency, and why not ask for an ISO standard to be created as well?

The data base will be created through the TJN's current Mapping the Faultlines (TJF, see p. 12) project, which is set to go online towards the autumn of 2009, providing a view of what SJ-free entities could possibly use to prove their status. Labelling organisations would also need country-by-country accounts, that list all subsidiaries to be handed over as otherwise it'd be impossible to make a "SJ-Free" assessment of a company. For honest tax paying companies this should be no burden what so ever.

So as we wait for "non-secrecy jurisdiction" bananas in our shelves along side with free-range eggs, the pressure mounts once again for counry-by-country reporting - which can now be also pushed at times of municipal elections.


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