The business fight-back against the tax justice lobby is continuing. It’s beginning to have a decidedly co-ordinated feeling to it. As the Guardian has reported this morning, Stefano Pessina, the Italian billionaire who co-owns Alliance Boots with private equity firm KKR, warned at a CBI conference yesterday that the prevailing “anti-business” mood among the public could deter companies from investing here. As they note:
The Switzerland based company, which owns Boots the Chemist, has been among those targeted by protest groups such as UK Uncut over its tax affairs. Pessina said the government was “business friendly” but said: “My only regret is the atmosphere in the UK is anti-business and this is not a good thing, because investment means jobs and that’s what we need in this country.”
Well it’s fascinating to note that such a tiny number of us have such an enormous impact, but let’s also set the record straight. The tax justice movement is probably the most pro-business lobby there is right now, possibly in the world.
We argue that business and those who invest in it should have all the information they need to make decisions. That’s called country-by-country reporting. Information and transparency are good for business. We’re doing more than anyone to support the supply of that information.
We argue that small business should not be disadvantaged by big business. So we say big business should not be able to use tax havens, transfer mispricing, copyright, patent and royalty abuses to shift profits and more besides which reduce their taxes when small business can do no such things. That’s unfair competition by big business. You can even call it the abuse of monopoly power. We’re going out of our way to prevent it.
And we’re arguing tax cheats should not have an advantage over honest business. So we’re arguing for more tax inspectors to catch the cheats and so create a level playing field for all honest business. No one else is doing that.
And we’re also demanding that all businesses must be required to comply with their requirements to file their accounts on public record, say who they are, tell us who runs them and be accountable for what they do. That massively reduces the risk of bad debts that are crippling for many businesses, especially in a downturn. No one else is more vociferous than us in demanding this – which would be of enormous benefit to business.
And we demand the same worldwide – including in tax havens – so exporting is easier and less risky. Lower risk reduces the cost of business and increases well being. No one else is doing that either.
We’re even demanding more efficient capital markets – by demanding that we understand better through country-by-country reporting just what risks there are inherent within multinational corporations, which is information simply unavailable at present. No one else is doing that.
I could go on, but with respect Mr Pessina, your problem with us is not that we’re anti-business, because we’re not. We’re anti-business abuse; and that, I suspect is what you don’t like. Being in favour of a level playing field – which is what we want – is not anti-business. It’s decidedly pro-business. But it sure as heck scares those who make profit from abusing their positions of power in the market, which is real anti-business activity.