It’s now a week since the G8 summit took place in Northern Ireland. The dust has had time to settle and we’re at the point where initial assessments of the successes and failures have begun to roll in. For those who have been campaigning hard over the last few months to get the G8 leaders to produce some results that will benefit those in the poorest parts of the world, it’s time to take stock and reflect. Was Enough Food of Everyone IF a success and worth the time and energy invested by so many individuals and organisations?
I’ve been on board with the IF campaign since I received an enticing invite by Tearfund in January to London for the launch of a major initiative formulated by a big group of charities and organisations. I made it to Somerset House on a cold winter’s night to see the launch in all its glory. Since then I’ve been blogging and bugging MPs to get the message over, along with attending the Big IF rally in London earlier this month. The highlight was giving it a plug when I ended up on the BBC’s Question Time.
I know I was just one cog in a big machine that involved thousands of people all pressing our government and beyond to make the most of the opportunity for significant changes on global tax and transparency that the G8 presented. As a result, on the face of it progress was made on:
- Corporate tax avoidance. Multinational companies will provide more detailed financial reports about their global activities, which will make it more difficult for them to declare profits wherever they choose (that is, where they will pay least tax).
- Beneficial ownership. Countries are committed to developing and implementing action plans to establish who really owns companies, and benefits from trusts, registered in their jurisdiction. In truth, these are a mixed bag, with no G8 member committing to the full transparency of a public registry.
- Tax information exchange. The G8 has given impetus to a new multilateral agreement on sharing tax information between them, with the baton passing to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to work out the details.
- Development emphasis. In addition, and importantly, the summit communique was full of references to ensuring that these systems are designed to work not only for G8 countries but for developing countries too.
The difficulty is knowing how these agreements will pan out and what long-term progress we can expect. At this point it’s worth looking back to 2005 when the G8 last met in the UK. That time round the Make Poverty History campaign resulted in the biggest anti-poverty movement of our time with more than 200,000 people marching through Edinburgh. Live8 made a huge impact sending the message around the globe. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have acknowledged that the weight of public opinion behind the campaigning caused the international community to listen and act. The world leaders at Gleneagles agreed to double aid, write off debts, train peacekeepers, boost investment in health and education, make Aids drugs available to all and tackle climate change.
Eight years on we find that only some of these promises were kept and most commitments were not met in full. So was the 2005 summit a failure? Well if the hope was eradication of poverty, then yes it was. But even though the Make Poverty History campaign was seeking for exactly that to happen, there was no way it would have ever have been fixed in one week between eight world leaders over two days. It was all about momentum and awareness. Far more was achieved than if Make Poverty History had never happened. It was the same for the #IF campaign this time round. The issues were not as grand as the eradication of debt and poverty, but they were more tangible and measurable. This approach would appear to have been judged well given the fact that the UK government once again gave its full backing to a campaign and that progress was made even before the G8 summit when David Cameron secured the agreement from Britain’s overseas territories that they will sign up to a new clampdown on tax evasion.
Enough Food for Everyone IF may not have caught the public’s imagination in as spectacular a way as Make Poverty History, but the progress made shows that it is not just raw numbers that make the difference, even though the 45,000 at the BigIF rally at Hyde Park was still a sizable achievement. What the campaign has had in its favour is the way the public and our politicians have united behind a common cause. Who would have thought just six months ago that tax transparency and avoidance would now be a major political issue that is now permanently on the political agenda? Ben Phillips, campaigns director at Oxfam, has said that “less than a year ago campaigners were castigated as dreamers for calling for an end to tax secrecy, tax trickery and the race to the bottom.” But now:
‘In the end, leaders are led, and the power of the people is stronger than the people in power. Can one intergovernmental meeting fix it? No. But after this year of corporate scandal, popular mobilisation, media controversy, shuttle diplomacy, and leaders’ gatherings, no one representing a major government – no one – now says that campaigners’ ultimate aims are wrong. The power of (extra)ordinary people is winning the debate.
‘Because some good people stood outside coffee shops, visited their MP, sent emails, signed petitions, came to rallies, organised their faith groups and local communities, told their family and friends; because some good politicians put their populations before the plutocrats, asked tough questions and pushed for tougher laws; because some bold media exposed tax cheating; because brilliant wonks learnt to talk human; and because some absolutely hopeless company bosses helped fuel their own PR disasters …. because of all of these things we now have an unstoppable momentum to stop tax dodging.
‘People power has cracked the walls of tax secrecy. Now we have to bring the walls down.’
Ben Niblett, Tearfund’s Head of Campaigns has told me that it was “worth the effort – all those meetings, all those emails, all those church events meant the G8 listened and began to act. it’s not over yet, but it’s already been worth it!”
We have to remember that with this sort of campaigning, there is rarely a natural end. There is always more to be done and governmental leaders need to be reminded not to forget their promises and for details to be fleshed out and action taken. Enough Food for Everyone IF did its job and did it well. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but these things never are. Brendan Cox, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children, has written the most honest and reflective account of the whole campaign that I’ve read and it is well worth the read if you want to examine the whole experience in more detail.
So thank you to those who cared enough and had the vision to create the IF campaign. Thank you to the politicians, especially our government who listened and acted, but thank you most of all to the thousands of people who turned the vision into a reality. Who knows what lies ahead for the 2021 G8?
P.S. I strongly believe God had a hand in it too. All the prayers were definitely worth it and the support of Christians and churches made a huge difference.