Network was also in the Global Tax 50
The Tax Justice Network (TJN) is a campaigning body that
advocates fairer tax policies around the globe, particularly to
benefit developing countries.
Global tax transparency advances in 2016 have been
influenced by TJN's efforts and some of its biggest campaigns
to date have earned it a place in the Global Tax 50.
Established in 2003 and now in its 13th year, TJN carries
out research and analysis of international tax policies and
financial regulations with the intention to "change the
weather" on a wide range of issues related to tax, tax havens
and financial globalisation.
During 2016, TJN has been pushing for greater transparency
of beneficial ownership registers to prevent companies and
individuals from using tax havens to hide untaxed assets.
However, one of TJN's proudest successes over the past year
has been raising awareness of how tax secrecy impedes the human
rights of individuals in some of the world's poorest
Together with human rights lawyers and partners at the
Centre of Economic Justice and Social Rights, a leading human
rights group in New York, and others, TJN successfully
requested that Switzerland and its tax secrecy behaviour be
scrutinised as part of the four-year review of human rights
commitments conducted by the United Nations.
Tax Justice Network's argument that Switzerland's secrecy
laws undermine the ability of other countries to meet their
human rights commitments, especially in respect of women, was
accepted and, for the first time ever, a country was reviewed
on the basis that its tax laws undermine the ability of other
countries to meet basic human needs.
"All human rights have costs and every single human rights
commitment signed up to by a country includes an obligation to
maximise resources to fund that commitment. When countries
allow individuals to hide looted assets and evade tax behind
secretive offshore structures, or when companies avoid paying
tax, they are depriving countries of the resources they need to
fulfil their human rights obligations," John Christensen, the
director of TJN, told International Tax Review.
"We chose this as the first case because Switzerland tops
our financial secrecy index. It also hosts the office of the
commissioner of human rights", Christensen added.
In November, Switzerland received strong recommendations
from the UN Committee mandated to oversee compliance with the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW) to examine the impacts of its secrecy
laws on third party countries.
Switzerland, which has responded to the review, has accepted
in principle that there are issues around its transparency
"As pressure mounts for a UN General Assembly resolution to
stamp out tax havens, it has become clear that governments who
insist on eroding the tax bases of other nations will face
increasing scrutiny from human rights accountability
mechanisms," TJN said in a blog post. "The ground-breaking
outcomes of CEDAW's review of Switzerland indicate what can be
achieved when human rights and tax justice advocates join
forces to use these mechanisms to challenge cross-border tax
abuse as a violation of human rights."
"Think about where this might take us," Christensen said.
"For a long time companies have been taking aggressive tax
positions – particularly in some of the most
vulnerable and impoverished countries. Tax avoidance is often
justified by spurious arguments about fiduciary duties to
protect shareholder interests. But let's flip that argument
onto its head and say actually you are violating human rights,
or rather you are undermining the ability of the countries that
host your activities to fulfil their human rights obligations.
That's a much stronger position."
Making governments and companies change their tax practices
through raising awareness of the affect it has on human rights
is a powerful force for change, according to Christensen.
"Firstly, at the country level, we can bring pressure on
countries, like Switzerland, to start considering, in a very
technical way, the spillover impacts that their tax policies
and their secrecy policies have on other countries", he said.
"At the same time, at a company level, we can raise concerns
that a company, adopting a particular position, is not just
infringing on corporate social responsibility or moral issues,
they are actively and knowingly harming the social and economic
development of people in other countries."
"I'm hoping that Switzerland will remedy some of the
problems. Specifically, we would like to see Switzerland extend
automatic information exchange under the new common reporting
standard to all developing countries," Christensen continued.
"In other words, make it a truly global commitment, rather than
being selective about which countries it is prepared to share
tax information with: a simple ask. And that's so patently a
fair thing to do. Fair in terms of Switzerland improving its
reputation, but also fair in terms of helping developing
countries move beyond aid and debt dependence into having tax
systems that actually fund their own."
But for TJN and fellow tax justice campaigners, there is
still more to do.
In coming years TJN and its partners will be requesting that
the UN reviews the human rights track records of more countries
– including the UK and US – to spotlight how
their secrecy laws and practices impact on other countries.
Separately, Christensen said that he looks forward to
identifying mining companies doing egregious things in some of
the most vulnerable countries of the world, and investigating
them and the way they are deliberately disrupting things, and
violating human rights.
"We are always trying to push into new areas," Christensen
said. "We describe ourselves as 'weather changing', and I do
think that the weather has changed significantly around tax
avoidance. We are seeing that in the corporate community
itself, which is precisely the community where change is most
Over the next few years, TJN will be focusing on the need
for change at the political level and raising the debate on
"tax wars", that is the recent tax competition to drive a
short-term change to attract investment. TJN will be looking at
the "race to the bottom" on tax rates and how so-called tax
competition harms development in both developed and developing