A human rights based approach to corporation tax (and its avoidance)

As the Dáil begins a full day debate on corporate tax avoidance and the specific case of unlawful State aid to Apple, it is worth recalling that Irish and international human rights bodies have long been calling for a human rights based approach to tax policy, and to the issue of corporate tax avoidance in particular. As part of the discussion on Ireland’s national action plan on business and human rights (which we still await), various submissions referred specifically to the issue of corporate tax avoidance. Here’s what the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission had to say:

Corporate tax avoidance may deprive countries of the resources necessary to provide social programmes and fulfil their duties under international human rights law. […] The Commission recommends that the National Action Plan should acknowledge the negative human rights impact of tax avoidance both nationally and globally, and include a commitment by the Irish Government to adopt a human rights based approach to addressing tax avoidance.

Christian Aid Ireland, who have been to the forefront of tax justice efforts, put it that “the Irish government should be in a strong position to lead on developing the link between tax, business and human rights. The National Action Plan should therefore address tax issues”. Sorley McCaughey, the organization’s head of advocacy, put the issue of Apple’s €13 billion tax avoidance in context last week:

When deals are done behind closed doors, whether it is in Zambia or Ireland, it is the general public who lose out, as special treatment is granted to already wealthy and influential corporations […] ‘This is not a one-off situation – it is part of a damaging race to the bottom in which governments are competing on who can offer multinationals the lowest tax bill. This is a recipe for disaster for all the tax-funded public services around the world on which lives depend.

In its submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Irish Centre for Human Rights recommended that the national action plan “include a commitment to conduct an assessment of the human rights impact of Irish tax practices and to supporting and implementing efforts to prevent global tax avoidance”. FLAC and others have provided guidance on how to incorporate human rights in budgeting.

The Irish parliament has previously debated the issue of corporate tax avoidance and human rights was a frequent touchstone in the debate. One member of the Dáil put it that:

Ireland must have an overarching vision of what it wishes to do with its tax system. It should be based on human rights and recognising Ireland’s obligations not just to itself, its people and Members’ constituents and their jobs but also to the lives of people around the world who are dependent on their own natural resources.

Such calls for a human rights based approach have been somewhat absent from the debate over the Apple case the past week, although perhaps they may feature in today’s discussion.

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