People's Stories Equality

Why tax justice is critical to the realisation of rights
by CESR, Tax Justice Network, ICIJ, ICRICT, agencies
Apr. 2022
Why tax justice is critical to the rights of persons with disabilities, by Polly Meeks and Mirjam Gasser for the Center for Economic and Social Rights
As the 2022 Financing for Development Forum gets underway, guest bloggers Polly Meeks and Mirjam Gasser use examples from Switzerland, the UK, and India to illustrate why the rights of persons with disabilities cannot be fully realized without reform of the international tax system:
This week’s UN Financing for Development Forum will see renewed calls to fix the flawed international tax rules that allow rich companies and individuals to dodge their taxes.
As the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and other experts have long argued, tax justice is a human rights issue. Tax dodging – estimated at some 483 billion USD per year – robs the public purse of resources urgently needed to fund public services and institutions essential to upholding rights.
Among those hit hardest by tax dodging are persons with disabilities as budgets are systematically trimmed. Persons with disabilities make up 15% of the global population and experience compounding social, economic and political injustices that are exacerbated when disability intersects with other forms of discrimination, for example on the basis of gender, race or indigenous status.
These injustices cannot be properly tackled without dedicated public resources. For example: resources are needed to ensure that persons with disabilities can access infrastructure, information, and services on an equal basis with others; that persons with disabilities can enjoy an adequate standard of living and can meet the extra costs of disability; and that representative organisations of persons with disabilities have the funds to hold governments to account. So, when tax dodging drains resources away from public budgets, persons with disabilities stand to lose disproportionately.
The importance of considering the impact of tax systems on persons with disabilities at home and abroad is increasingly being recognized, for example in a proposed draft tax convention from Eurodad and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice.
A recent event organised by CBM Switzerland gave a taste of the insights that might emerge if countries were held accountable to their actions in these areas. Inspired by previous work on tax justice and gender justice by CESR and allies, the event invited experts to discuss the links between tax justice and the rights of persons with disabilities in a sample of three countries: Switzerland, the UK and India. In the case of Switzerland, the arguments are also elaborated in more detail in a new CBM Switzerland factsheet.
A closer look at tax and financial secrecy policies in Switzerland and the UK
Switzerland’s financial system has two key characteristics that facilitate cross-border tax dodging. First, Switzerland has very high levels of banking secrecy, as the recent SuisseSecrets scandal exposed once again. While some small progress has been made in automatic exchange of taxpayer information with other jurisdictions, this leaves out many countries at the bottom of the income spectrum – depriving them of vital information to act swiftly against cross-border tax dodging and money laundering. Second, Switzerland also has low effective corporation tax rates.
Although the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Group of 20 (G20) recently agreed on global minimum corporation tax rate, the agreed rate is too low and the agreement too full of loopholes to have much effect on multinational companies who report their profits from the Global South to Switzerland in order to avoid tax.
In many of the UK’s offshore Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, financial secrecy is the norm, facilitated by the City of London (despite some positive steps towards transparency in recent years). The Cayman Islands, for example, came top of the most recent Financial Secrecy Index from the Tax Justice Network.
In addition, the UK’s network of tax treaties can restrict Global South countries’ ability to tax multinational corporations. Research by ActionAid in 2016 found that since the 1970s, the UK had entered the equal-highest number of very restrictive treaties with countries in Africa and Asia.
As our expert panelists Dominik Gross (Alliance Sud) and Matti Kohonen (Financial Transparency Coalition) explained during the event, when tax policies in the Global North restrict tax revenues in the Global South, this in turn will take a toll on the rights of persons with disabilities. As Matti Kohonen reminded us during the event, “without revenue, there are no rights”.
A case study from the Global South: India
Of course, national governments are the primary duty bearers in budgeting for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Disability advocate Meenakshi Balasubramanian (Center for Inclusive Policy) has been researching budgets for the rights of persons with disabilities in India for more than a decade. Her most recent research, part of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability’s annual analysis of the Union (federal level) budget of 2022-23, shows that:
Specific reported budget allocations for persons with disabilities have declined from 0.0097% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020-21, to just 0.0084% of GDP in 2022-23, or around 21.7 billion Indian Rupees / 290 million US dollars.
Only 0.0006 % of the Union Government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana COVID-19 relief package was allocated to support the incomes of persons with disabilities.
According to government statistics from 2018, only between 19% and 32% of persons with ‘locomotor disabilities’, ‘visual disabilities’ and ‘hearing disabilities’ accessed assistive devices. And only a small minority of these people did so through government programs. Yet budget allocations for such devices have remained roughly static over the last four years, and no plans to improve distribution have been announced.
Ms Balasubramanian’s research both on the 2022-23 Union budget and on COVID-19 response (covering 2020-2022) highlights numerous areas needing urgent government attention from the Indian state.
But the starting point is so low that even after these priority areas are addressed, there will still be a very long way to go to mobilize maximum available resources for budgets that fully comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Effectively stemming cross-border tax abuses can play a significant role in ensuring that maximum resources are indeed available: it is estimated that India currently loses more than 16 billion US dollars per year due to cross-border tax abuse.
These losses are attributable to the tax/financial secrecy policies of many countries and jurisdictions, not solely to our two examples of Switzerland and the UK. Still, research has pointed to some links during the past decade. For example, the Swiss Leaks scandal in 2015 revealed that numerous Indian nationals had Swiss bank accounts, allegedly for the purpose of dodging taxes in India.
Meanwhile, research in 2017 suggested that some Foreign Direct Investment in India might be being routed through the UK in order to take advantage of financial secrecy in British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
Whatever countries are responsible, those 16 billion US dollars of lost revenue equate to an enormous lost opportunity to resource rights – including the rights of persons with disabilities – throughout India.
The way forward
The case of persons with disabilities starkly illustrates the pressing need for action to reform the international tax system. The Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities – the focal point for engagement by persons with disabilities in UN Sustainable Development policies – has highlighted this repeatedly in its inputs to the Financing for Development process.
Like so many other stakeholders across the Global South and Global North, the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities is calling for meaningful action to combat illicit financial flows (encompassing corporate tax abuses), including through:
A universal, intergovernmental tax commission under the auspices of the UN, where countries will be on an equal footing unlike in the OECD; and a UN convention on tax to address tax havens, tax abuse by multinational corporations and other illicit financial flows.
Reform of the international tax system is far from sufficient to ensure persons with disabilities, especially in the Global South, enjoy their rights to the full. But – as our three country case studies indicate – it is both necessary and urgent. Decisive progress through the UN Financing for Development process cannot come soon enough.
* Polly Meeksis an independent researcher with 14 years of experience, whose work focuses on economic justice, public finance and the rights of persons with disabilities. Mirjam Gasser is the Head of Advocacy at CBM Switzerland.
Jan. 2022
A new analysis, “Taxing Extreme Wealth,” by the Fight Inequality Alliance, Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, and Patriotic Millionaires found a shocking rise in global wealth among the world’s richest people despite deepening inequality during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The analysis, “Taxing Extreme Wealth: An annual tax on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires: What it would raise and what it could pay for,” published on January 19 by the Fight Inequality Alliance, Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, and Patriotic Millionaires found that globally:
3.6 million people have over $5 million in wealth, with a combined wealth of $75.3 trillion, according to data commissioned for this study from Wealth-X.
183,300 households own over $50 million, for a combined wealth of $36.4 trillion, according to Wealth-X data.
There are 2,660 billionaires with a total combined wealth of $13.76 trillion. (Drawn from Forbes on November 30, 2021).
An annual wealth tax applied to the world’s richest would raise U.S. $2.52 trillion a year (with a graduated rate structure: 2 percent tax on wealth over $5 million; 3 percent on wealth over $50 million; 5 percent on wealth over $1 billion.)
A more steeply progressive wealth tax would raise U.S. $3.62 trillion a year (with graduated rates of 2 percent on wealth starting at $5 million; 5 percent on wealth over $50 million; and 10 percent on wealth over $1 billion.)
An annual tax on the world’s richest would be enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the whole world, and deliver universal health care and social protection for all the citizens of low and lower middle-income countries (3.6 billion people).
This new global billionaire wealth analysis comes on the heels of a new Oxfam International report based on World Bank data that shows that while 99 percent of the world’s workers earned less money in 2021, the world’s ten wealthiest men more than doubled their fortunes.
Meanwhile, global protests around the world are set to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s ‘State of the World’ online meetings.
In the US, roughly 750 U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth increase over $2 trillion since March 2020 for a combined wealth of over $5 trillion, according to previous research by the Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies.
And there are over 63,500 individuals with wealth over $50 million with combined assets of $12.8 trillion, according to the new report, Taxing Extreme Wealth. An annual wealth tax would raise $928 billion a year, enough to eliminate half of household out-of-pocket health expenses in the U.S.
It is time to levy a wealth tax on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires. This is not to simply raise revenue to vaccinate the world and invest in robust public health systems. But a wealth tax that is intended to save democracy from the extreme concentrations of wealth and power.
* Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Nov. 2021
The State of Tax Justice 2021
Countries are losing a total of $483 billion in tax a year to global tax abuse committed by multinational corporations and wealthy individuals – enough to fully vaccinate the global population against Covid-19 more than three times over.
The 2021 edition of the State of Tax Justice documents how a small club of rich countries with de facto control over global tax rules is responsible for the majority of tax losses suffered by the rest of the world, with lower income countries hit the hardest by global tax abuse. The findings are further galvanising calls to move rule-making on international tax from the OECD to the UN.
Key findings
Countries are losing $483 billion in tax a year to global tax abuse – that’s enough to fully vaccinate the global population against Covid-19 more than three times over.
Of the $483 billion lost a year, $312 billion of this tax loss is due to cross-border corporate tax abuse by multinational corporations and $171 billion is due to offshore tax abuse by wealthy individuals.
Global tax abuse continues to hit lower income countries more severely than higher income countries. While higher income countries lose more tax in absolute number, their tax losses represent a smaller share of their revenues (9.7 per cent). Lower income countries in comparison collectively lose the equivalent of nearly half (48 per cent) of their public health budgets.
The taxes that lower income countries lose would be enough to vaccinate 60 per cent of their populations, bridging the gap in vaccination rates between lower income and higher income countries.
Key recommendations
UN tax convention. Urgent calls to shift the responsibility of setting tax rules away from the OECD to the UN. The FACTI Panel’s key recommendations draw closely on the work of the tax justice movement, and include the establishment of a UN tax convention, intergovernmental UN forum for the urgent negotiation of further changes to the international tax rules; and a Centre for Monitoring Taxing Rights at the UN to raise national accountability for illicit financial flows and tax abuse suffered by others, and a globally inclusive.
Excess profit tax. Governments must introduce an excess profit tax on multinational corporations making excess profits during the pandemic, such as global digital companies, in order to cut through profit shifting abuses.
Multinational corporations’ excess profit would be identified at the global level, not the national level, to prevent corporations from underreporting their profits by shifting them into tax havens, and taxed using a unitary tax method.
Wealth tax. Governments must introduction of a wealth tax to fund the Covid-19 response and address the long term inequalities the pandemic has exacerbated, with punitive rates for opaquely owned offshore assets and a commitment between governments to eliminate this opacity. The pandemic has already seen an explosion in the asset values of the wealthy, even as unemployment has soared to record levels in many countries.
July 2021
Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation:
The agreement announced at the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting is a another lost opportunity to put an end to tax avoidance by multinationals and and generate revenues worldwide to support governments in their fight against the pandemic and the recovery post COVID.
The world is at a crossroads and the time to act to ensure all countries have sufficient resources to pay for public goods and to create a more resilient economy post-COVID is now.
ICRICT considers that a comprehensive reform would see ALL multinationals’ worldwide profits taxed in line with their real activities in each country - that is, by allocating global corporate profits of multinationals to different countries on a formulaic basis, according to the key factors that generate profit: employment, sales, and assets AND a 25% global effective minimum tax on multinationals, putting an end to harmful tax competition between countries and reducing the incentive for multinationals to shift profits to tax havens.
The Inclusive Framework agreement falls well short of the comprehensive reform the world needs and does not reflect the demands that developing countries have made in the past for a bigger and fairer reallocation of taxing rights for the largest and most profitable businesses and for a high global minimum tax to ensure that meaningful revenues are generated and shared fairly.
This agreement only serves the interests of a handful of countries, the richest. It is now time for the G20 countries to show real leadership and raise the ambitious of the current deal.
This requires a commitment to both introduce a much higher minimum tax, and to advocate within the Inclusive Framework for a higher share of global profits of multinationals to be reallocated using a formula, as both the Intergovernmental Group of 24 and the African Tax Administration Forum , which coordinate the positions of their members that are active in the negotiations, have been calling for.
A global minimum tax is one of the main recommendations of the Report on Financial Integrity for Sustainable Development - presented last February by a United Nations high-level panel, the FACTI.
A global minimum tax rate close of 21% could generate $640 billion, according to a recent study on the potential revenue-raising effects of the widespread adoption of this measure.
The European Tax Observatory, run by ICRICT commissioner Gabriel Zucman, just considered several scenarios, depending on a range of rates. An international agreement on a minimum rate of 25% - as supported by ICRICT- would allow the European Union (EU) to raise its tax revenues by €170 billion in 2021, an increase of 50% of the corporate tax revenue collected today and equivalent to 12% of total EU health spending.
With a 21% minimum rate (Biden’s early proposal), the EU would collect about €100 billion more. Moving from 21% to 15% would halve these revenues (to €50 billion).
A 25% global minimum corporate tax rate would raise nearly $17 billion more for the world’s 38 poorest countries (for which data is available) than a 15%. These countries are home to 38.6 % of the world’s population.
Multinationals, supported by some economists, claim that a 21% rate would be excessive and would harm developing countries, depriving them of a valuable tool to attract investment. This is a specious argument.
Studies show that when a multinational company considers where to locate a production unit, tax advantage does not take pride of place at all on the list of criteria to be considered. In fact, it appears well behind other issues such as the quality of infrastructure, the education of workers, or legal security.
Additional revenue generated by a global minimum tax must be shared equitably between the home countries of multinational companies and the developing countries where the activities – workforce and raw materials – are sourced.
The Intergovernmental Group of 24 (G24), a body representing emerging economies, is requesting that, in some circumstances, these economies should have priority in taxing profits shifted to tax havens.
Globally, tax avoidance diverts 40% of foreign profits to tax havens, according to ICRICT commissioner Gabriel Zucman.


Inequality is not inevitable, it is a political choice
by World Inequality Report 2022
The richest 10% of the global population currently takes 52% of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8% of it. Global wealth inequalities are even more pronounced than income inequalities. The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2% of the total. In contrast, the richest 10% of the global population own 76% of all wealth.
In 2021, after three decades of trade and financial globalization, global inequalities remain extremely pronounced: they are as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century.
In addition, the Covid pandemic has exacerbated even more global inequalities. Our data shows that the top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since the mid-1990s, with an acceleration since 2020. More generally speaking, wealth inequality remains at extreme levels in all regions.
“The COVID crisis has exacerbated inequalities between the wealthy and the rest of the population. Yet, in rich countries, government intervention so far prevented a massive rise in poverty, this was not the case in poor countries. This shows the importance of social policies in the fight against poverty.”, explains Lucas Chancel, lead author of the report.
Economist Gabriel Zucman states: “The World Inequality Reports addresses a critical democratic need: rigorously documenting what is happening to inequality in all its dimensions. It is an invaluable resource for journalists, policymakers, and civil society all over the world.”
Lucas Chancel adds, “If there is one lesson to be learnt from the global investigation carried out in this report, it is that inequality is always political choice.”
Inequality is a political choice, not an inevitability
Income and wealth inequalities have been on the rise nearly everywhere since the 1980s, following a series of deregulation and liberalization programs which took different forms in different countries. The rise has not been uniform: certain countries have experienced spectacular increases in inequality (including the US, Russia and India) while others (European countries and China) have experienced relatively smaller rises. These differences, confirm that inequality is not inevitable, it is a political choice.
Average national incomes tell us little about inequality
The world map of inequalities reveals that national average income levels are poor predictors of inequality: among high-income countries, some are very unequal (such as the US), while other are relatively equal (e.g. Sweden). The same is true among low- and middle-income countries, with some exhibiting extreme inequality (e.g. Brazil and India), somewhat high levels (e.g. China) and moderate to relatively low levels (e.g. Malaysia, Uruguay).
While inequality has increased within most countries, over the past two decades, global inequalities between countries have declined. The gap between the average incomes of the richest 10% of countries and the average incomes of the poorest 50% of countries dropped from around 50x to a little less than 40x. At the same time, inequalities increased significantly within countries. The gap between the average incomes of the top 10% and the bottom 50% of individuals within countries has almost doubled, from 8.5x to 15x.
This sharp rise in within country inequalities has meant that despite economic catch-up and strong growth in the emerging countries, the world remains particularly unequal today. It also means that inequalities within countries are now even greater than the significant inequalities observed between countries.
Global inequalities seem to be about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century. Indeed, the share of income presently captured by the poorest half of the world’s people is about half what it was in 1820, before the great divergence between Western countries and their colonies.
Nations have become richer, but governments have become poor
One way to understand these inequalities is to focus on the gap between the net wealth of governments and net wealth of the private sector. Over the past 40 years, countries have become significantly richer, but their governments have become significantly poorer. The share of wealth held by public actors is close to zero or negative in rich countries, meaning that the totality of wealth is in private hands.
This trend has been magnified by the Covid crisis, during which governments borrowed the equivalent of 10-20% of GDP, essentially from the private sector. The currently low wealth of governments has important implications for state capacities to tackle inequality in the future, as well as the key challenges of the 21st century such as climate change.
Wealth inequalities have increased at the very top of the distribution
The rise in private wealth has also been unequal within countries and at the world level. Global multimillionaires have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth growth over the past several decades: the top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since the mid-1990s, whereas the bottom 50% captured just 2% of it. This inequality stems from serious inequality in growth rates between the top and the bottom segments of the wealth distribution. The wealth of richest individuals on earth has grown at 6 to 9% per year since 1995, whereas average wealth has grown at 3.2% per year. 2020 marked the steepest increase in global billionaires’ share of wealth on record.
Gender inequalities remain considerable at the global level, and progress within countries is too slow
The World Inequality Report 2022 provides the first estimates of the gender inequality in global earnings. Overall, women’s share of total incomes from work (labor income) neared 30% in 1990 and stands at less than 35% today. Current gender earnings inequality remains very high: in a gender equal world, women would earn 50% of all labor income. In 30 years, progress has been very slow at the global level, and dynamics have been different across countries, with some recording progress but others seeing reductions in women’s share of earnings.
Addressing large inequalities in carbon emissions is essential for tackling climate change
Global income and wealth inequalities are tightly connected to ecological inequalities and to inequalities in contributions to climate change. On average, humans emit 6.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) per capita, per year. Our data set on carbon emissions inequalities reveals important inequalities in CO2 emissions at the world level: the top 10% of emitters are responsible for close to 50% of all emissions, while the bottom 50% produce 12% of the total.
These inequalities are not just a rich vs. poor country issue. There are high emitters in low- and middle-income countries and low emitters in rich countries. In Europe, the bottom 50% of the population emits around five tonnes per year per person; the bottom 50% in East Asia emits around three tonnes and the bottom 50% in North America around 10 tonnes. This contrasts sharply with the emissions of the top 10% in these regions (29 tonnes in Europe, 39 in East Asia, and 73 in North America).
This report also reveals that the poorest half of the population in rich countries is already at (or near) the 2030 climate targets set by rich countries, when these targets are expressed on a per capita basis. This is not the case for the top half of the population. Large inequalities in emissions suggest that climate policies should target wealthy polluters more.
Redistributing wealth to invest in the future
The World Inequality Report 2022 reviews several policy options for redistributing wealth and investing in the future in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We present revenue gains that would come from a modest progressive wealth tax on global multimillionaires. Given the large volume of wealth concentration, modest progressive taxes can generate significant revenues for governments. In our scenario, we find that 1.6% of global incomes could be generated and reinvested in education, health and the ecological transition.
We stress at the outset that addressing the challenges of the 21st century is not feasible without significant redistribution of income and wealth inequalities. The rise of modern welfare states in the 20th century, which was associated with tremendous progress in health, education, and opportunities for all, was linked to the rise of steep progressive taxation rates. This played a critical role in order to ensure the social and political acceptability of increased taxation and socialization of wealth. A similar evolution will be necessary in order to address the challenges of the 21st century.
Recent developments in international taxation show that progress towards fairer economic policies is indeed possible at the global level as well as within countries. The report discusses various options to tackle inequality, learning from examples all over the world and throughout modern history.
Inequality is always political choice and learning from policies implemented in other countries or at other points of time is critical to design fairer development pathways.
This report presents the most up-to-date synthesis of international research efforts to track global inequalities. The data and analysis presented here are based on the work of more than 100 researchers over four years, located on all continents, contributing to the World Inequality Database (, maintained by the World Inequality Lab. This network collaborates with statistical institutions, tax authorities, universities and international organizations, to harmonize, analyze and disseminate comparable international inequality data.

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