Originally published in The Christian Post
Every day, tax evasion kills 1000 children, in large part due to natural resource companies under-reporting their profits made in developing countries, storing the cash elsewhere, and preventing governments from cashing in. According to Al-Jazeera, the amount being lost is so large that if it could be recovered, most of the continent would be “developed” by now.
Even though tax evasion and avoidance problems have long been linked to obscure natural resource companies, some of the most famous Western companies have also come under the microscope for controversial policies that allow them to immorally avoid certain tax liabilities. Last year, Starbucks, Amazon and Google were all accused by members of the UK Parliament of using secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to “immorally” pay less tax on their profits.
Tackling corruption at the corporate, government and local level is the next issue that Christian anti-poverty activists will be confronting as part of the American campaign, Shine the Light, and its sister global initiative, EXPOSED.
The initiative was created as a result of conversations with individuals fighting global poverty at the grassroots level, who complained that their efforts were constantly stymied by corruption, according to Amanda Jackson, the Head of Campaigns and Policy at the Micah Challenge, one of the movement’s founding organizational members.
“Church leaders and leaders of development agencies would tell us that money was getting wasted; that money that should have been going to schools and teachers was getting siphoned off, or that money that should be coming from the oil reserves was just disappearing,” she told The Christian Post.
“We realized that if we could stem the flow of corrupt money disappearing than maybe we wouldn’t need to spend so much money on aid and have poor countries reliant on rich countries,” she added.
Organisers also realised that many Western Christians and churches were ignorant of the devastating consequences corruption was having on the poor, and of their own potential complicity in the system.
“It’s very easy to point the finger at a big multinational or horrible dictator and to say they are corrupt but we wanted Christians to examine their own behavior and consider how we contributing ourselves by our apathy or by our actions,” said Jackson.
Jason Alfonse Fileta, the Director of Micah Challenge USA, explained that the intiative was also an effort for Americans to consider their influence as consumers.
“The consumption choices we make are actually decisions that impact people around the world,” said Fileta. “Choosing to support good, transparent and just companies is actually a very faithful decision in our Christian walk.”
Fileta acknowledged Christians would have to work to educate themselves about ethical companies, but “there are enough resources out there to help us know if our dollars are supporting oppression and abuse and that kind of thing or if they are going to good and life-giving activities.”
During the week of October 14, EXPOSED and Shine the Light will be kicking off a campaign of vigils around the world that seek to engage the church in self-reflection based around their personal interaction and engagement with corruption.
“[The vigils] are a chance for us to publicly say that we haven’t always got it right, and we admit that and we can do better,” said Jackson. “We want to proclaim God’s high standards…we don’t just want to blame people.”
The movement also wants to leverage public awareness to put pressure on public officials to crackdown on corruption and institute laws enforcing corporate transparency. Currently, their targets are leaders of G20 nations, the world’s largest economies.
“We’re asking all the countries in the G20 to all implement legislation and action so [corporations] can’t play off one country against each other [to avoid taxes.]” said Jackson. “But we need the G20 to cooperate with each other. It would be a huge example to poor countries that something is being done about large scale corruption.”
On Shine the Light’s website, users can sign a petition asking President Barack Obama to prioritise corporate transparency, tax avoidance, and bribery regulations at November’s G20 meeting.
For the global Church, much of the outreach involves asking Christians to consider their own participation in a system of bribery.
“We have ‘Bribe Box’ for people to come and say ‘I’ve paid bribes. I confess it’,” said Jackson. “Unfortunately there are mission organisations that pay bribes, and they justify it under ‘we have a bigger calling.’ [This project] is a case of saying stop and see if we can do it another way.”
For those in the West, Jackson hopes the Shine the Light campaign’s message that the poor suffer most when corporations use tax avoidance or evasion to maximize their earnings resonates particularly with Christian business people.
“In the UK, £20 trillion is missing from tax system. If that was minimally taxed, that would be enough money to wipe out the need for overseas aid. It’s double the money we currently give in overseas aid,” said Jackson.
“Taxes are put in place for the government to do good things to their community and provide basic services,” said Jackson. “Christians should happily pay taxes and if they are not sure they are spent properly they should take every good measure to make sure they are spent efficiently but they shouldn’t not pay them.”