Inequalities and democracy and human rights

Collection of tax, in a fair way, provides the backbone for a safe, stable and healthy society.

Collection of tax, in a fair way, provides the backbone for a safe, stable and healthy society. It institutes opportunities for everyone. The inequalities we see in every country in the world mark the denial of those opportunities and represent a direct assault on human rights.

Inequal opportunity is experienced most by women and girls, by black and ethnic minority peoples including indigenous communities, by people living with disabilities and with mental ill health and many more communities who are discriminated against.

Tax revenue, either directly or indirectly, can support all rights.  It is a source of revenue providing for our health and education. Tax revenue gives us access to public transport that takes us to our place of work and brings us home safely, and that helps us see our family and friends, and enables us to get the daily necessities such as buying food. Tax also pays for less obvious things than schools and hospitals and the people that staff them; it pays for a well-functioning justice system and the administration of effective laws and government.

Tax also ensures we can provide for people who are vulnerable – for individuals and families who struggle on the margins of society. Tax buttresses us against crisis be it personal, national or global.

Our social and economic life forms part of human rights law. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976) reminds us that “rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person.” This prevailing message of human rights law is realised only when it is underpinned by domestic law and, crucially by public revenue – and that means paying tax.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises this when it declares that each state party (country) must:

take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures. (ICESCR, Article 2).

This profoundly important piece of international law speaks directly to the tax justice proposition of progressive reform –for revenue, redistribution, re-pricing and representation. It spells out the importance of countries taking control of their revenue raising powers, re-setting the dial to redistribute income and wealth, repricing (ie, taxing) goods and services that have a ‘bad’ impact on the public wellbeing, and strengthening the contract between citizen and state.

This programme of work provides a platform to explore the different underpinnings and pivotal role tax plays in ensuring equality of opportunity and the realisation of our human rights.

Tax justice has never been so vital. The Sustainable Development Goals have insufficient resources focused on solutions. Initiatives such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – widely recognised as the model and architectural design for achieving substantive gender equality, provides an essential normative framework for governments that are failing women and girls. Many lack the enjoyment of a life free from discrimination, poverty and violence. Often these same women endure these hardships alongside increased caring responsibilities, precarious and low paid work and little or no social protection.

At the same time the legacy of colonialism  seeps everywhere. Within our institutions, in our statutes and in social structures, people and communities suffer systemic racial discrimination. The failure to curb wide ranging tax abuses and the economic race to the bottom perpetuates these gender and racial abuses. It’s a failure that risks leaving many and the most marginalised behind.

The Tax Justice Network’s research brings data, legal and political evidence together with case studies to attest to the critical value of tax justice policy reforms. We exposes and challenges systemic gender injustice. With our partners across the globe we set out the role of tax in addressing some of the key structural and systemic flaws. We fiercely advocate for gender equality and racial justice.

Additional resources