London City & Tax Justice

Abstract

In 2013, we developed a campaign with several partner organizations to draw attention to the role of the City of London in corporate tax malfeasance – aiding and abetting the structural theft of vast sums of money from the public, chiefly in the Global South. Through actions including a billboard campaign and an open statement, we reframed the City of London as the Tax Haven Capital of the World.

Context 

 The City of London sits at the center of the global web of tax havens that are aiding and abetting the theft of vast sums of money from the public around the world. More than half of the ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ identified by the Tax Justice Network have supply chain links to the UK. These include Crown Dependencies like Jersey and British Overseas Territories like the Cayman and British Virgin Islands rely on the City of London – on its permissive legal structures, tax rules and, crucially, its reputation for stability – for a large part of their business. 

The best available evidence suggests at least £13 trillion is hidden from tax authorities around the world. Among those who lose out are some of the poorest countries on Earth. It’s been estimated that for every US dollar given in foreign aid, developing countries lose ten dollars through illicit financial outflows. It has been argued by many scholars, activists and civil society organizations, especially those in the global South, that this money should be contributing to essential public services like roads, schools and hospitals. 

What happens in London does not stay in London; it has a real impact on global levels of inequality and poverty. Right now, the City of London is on the side of tax thieves. In ways large and small, the City greases the wheels of tax theft globally, and makes a lot of its money from doing so.

Narrative Intention

The central narrative intention was to draw attention to the role of the City of London in corporate tax malfeasance. We wanted to reframe the neutral place the City of London has to a more active role – City of London: Tax Haven Capital of the World.

Specifically, we set out with four interlocking intentions:

  1. To start to build the narrative in the media and engage our community about the role of tax havens in creating inequality and poverty.
  2. To flip the traditional development narrative that accuses the global South of corruption and mismanagement, and making it clear that financial corruption is created by the Northern-led tax haven system.
  3. To generate a global public demand for transparency in the largest hub of the global tax haven network.
  4. To bring an international dynamic into what had, until that point, been a largely domestic UK story about corporate tax evasion.

Method and Execution

In 2013, The Rules was still a very nascent organization, with very little brand recognition or credibility. Furthermore, there was some very powerful work already being done by groups in the UK to address the City’s role. We therefore decide to operate through a collaboration with the Tax Justice Network, The City Reform Group, UK Uncut & Occupy London.

We deployed the following tactics:

  • Overnight on March 11th, 2013, 66 billboards sprung up all over London, and Londoners woke up to find their city called out as the Tax Haven Capital of the World. 
  • The campaign featured in the Guardian and the promotional video spreading around the Internet like wildfire.
  • Over 20,000 people around the world signed onto our Open Statement.
  • We took a full-page ad in Saturday’s Guardian with the Open Statement.
  • Day of Action, which saw hundreds of members and friends of The Rules, UK Uncut and Occupy London gathering outside Royal Exchange, the financial heart of the City, in a powerful demonstration of support for tax justice.
  • We delivered the Open Statement to 10 Downing Street with mixed reception. We used the photo op moment to further amplify the complexity and entanglement of the private and public sector in the UK, the corporate government nexus of global wealth extraction.

Billboards

Viral Video

People Signed

Links and Resources:

Expose Hidden London

Launch video of the campaign

Is Kenya Being Shaped into Africa’s Flagship Tax Haven?

Article in Al-Jazeera

Letter of London

Article in Occupy.com

Lessons

  • Working with local social movements, even those based in the West, is key to deep organizing work and lasting impact. 
  • Day-of-action organizing is a very labor intensive, and energy often fades after the key moment. This method is still very useful and important for immediate issue amplification. 
  • When building a coalition moment, bringing others into a shared frame can be difficult, even if they share a general point-of-view. 
  • Local partners must always have complete ownership and long-term support from the broader coalition or the issue will fade with time.

By The Rules

The Rules (TR) was an activist collective that existed from 2012 to 2019. In its eight years of existence it focused on addressing the root causes of inequality, poverty and ecological break down through narrative and cultural interventions. TR worked directly with social movements to inform the nature of interventions, and worked with journalists, think tanks, independent researchers and others to reframe and amplify alternatives to help midwife post-capitalist realities.

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