Bono: meet me and discuss the issue

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The Sunday Times reported yesterday:

The campaign to embarrass the members of U2 over their tax avoidance is getting its boots on.

Following a demonstration outside the offices of the Department of Finance in Dublin on Wednesday, campaigners continued their crusade on Friday in London.

During an “impromptu” gig by the band on the roof of the BBC headquarters, a small group of demonstrators staged a seemingly spontaneous protest berating the band for exploiting a tax shelter in the Netherlands.

Agitators held makeshift placards bearing inscriptions such as: “Bono: pay your taxes” and “Bono: don’t be a banker”. Another held a home-made sign with the caption: “We’ll downl’d it 4 free and give the money to charity”.

And as they note:

Richard Murphy, a senior adviser with the TJN, said: “We were involved with the Dublin protest but the London one seems to have sprung up without the involvement of tax reform groups. It shows the anger on the ground about U2’s tax affairs,” he said.

Murphy said that he would be “very surprised” if protesters didn’t target the band’s tour. “I think this issue is going to haunt U2,” he said.

I liked this:

A number of Facebook groups critical of the band have already been established, including one entitled Make Bono History.

My personal view is Bono is making poverty reality.

As I said on the Guardian blog yesterday:

The issue as far as we are concerned is one of hypocrisy, and that hypocrisy relates to several matters.

Firstly, we do not think that anyone can ask a government on moral grounds to extend its resources on any issue and then deny that they have a moral obligation to pay their taxes in the place where they really reside. U2 do not reside in the Netherlands. They moved their tax affairs there solely because the Irish government introduced taxation on their royalty income and they prefer to pay a very low rate of tax ( probably 5%) in the Netherlands rather than pay still ludicrously low rate of tax of 12.5% in Ireland on that same income. This was pure avoidance behaviour, artificially, in our opinion, relocating an income stream from one country to another to obtain a tax advantage. I stress, this may be legal, but you cannot in our opinion argue that there is a moral dimension to the use of taxation revenues when you do not think that there is a moral dimension to the payment of tax. That is one of the issues that we are focusing upon here.

Second, we are focusing upon the use of tax havens by Bono. It is now widely agreed that tax havens do harm. They undermine the rights of democratic governments to fulfil the mandate they have been given by the electorate by denying them the resources that are rightfully theirs. We think that any successful development agenda has to be pro-democracy and the use of a tax haven such as the Netherlands ( and in this context the Netherlands is very definitely a tax haven) indicates a lack of understanding of this issue.

Next, tax havens are used for illicit financial flows out of developing countries. The Global Financial Integrity Project in Washington DC has recently shown that at least $800 billion a year flows out of developing countries to develop states, all of it illicitly. Most of that flow through tax havens. Some of it will undoubtedly flow through Netherlands structures which are identical to those used by U2. You cannot tackle illicit capital flight from developing countries and then use identical structures for your own taxation purposes. These structures have to be abolished for both purposes, you cannot deliver one and not the other.

Finally, Bono has, despite our very best efforts, refused to accept that tax is part of the development agenda, no doubt for his own personal reasons. I have met with his personal development agency - DATA - and they are not recognising this essential fourth stage in the development agenda. We have moved from a trade to debt and now we are moving to tax. Many of the agencies were backed this campaign against Bono including Oxfam and Christian aid have done so precisely because they recognise that a post aid world is essential - our goal should be to create countries able to stand on their own two feet, with democratic governments, held accountable by the electorate precisely because that electorate pay tax to them, and because those governments have it within their power to tax the multinational corporations who are based within them. This is what we hope for - countries that can provide for their own people and their educational, health care and other needs. Without tax that is not possible.

But have we heard Bono saying this? No, we haven't - not once. And we think that indicates that he is completely out of step with the development agenda that now exists. His supposed philanthropy is of another era - and it will not work.

Our campaign is not, therefore, a simple personal attack. Far from it. It is ideologically based. It is based upon critical analysis. It is based upon the clear evidence that the form of tax planning that Bono is using is harmful. And it is based upon his failure to in gauge with those of us who are taking this agenda forward.

I am proud to be associated with those who organised this stunt.

I would be happy to meet Bono anywhere to discuss the issues that we raise – but in front of an audience. This man has to be held to account for what he does.

Will he accept?

I’m not betting on it.