Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Format for print or mobile
Africa/Global: How Women Lose from Tax Injustice
September 25, 2017 (170925)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
A new report from the Association for Women in Development (AWID), authored by Dr.
Attiya Waris in Nairobi, makes a powerful case that women lose disproportionately
from illicit financial flows, which reduce the tax base and deprive states of the
resources to invest in critical public goods, and that addressing this issue is key
to efforts to combat gender inequality. The point should not be surprising, but too
often the impact of tax evasion and tax avoidance is cloaked in jargon that makes it
less visible than cases such as overt discrimination against women in employment and
wages. In contrast, this report stands out for its clarity. AfricaFocus strongly
recommends the full version, which is available on-line at
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains selected excerpts, as well as a short set of background
notes prepared by AfricaFocus on the context of related debates in the United States.
Two other examples highlighting the impact of illicit financial flows through tax
avoidance by multinational companies are reports by Action Aid (2010) on SAB Miller
in Ghana (http://tinyurl.com/ych3zce3) and on Associated British Foods (2013) in
ActionAid also has a short (3.5 minute) animated video highlighting the impact of
this in the Zambia case (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijtOErKjPMg). [Whether or
not you have time to read the reports, you can watch and share this video!]
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on tax injustice, illicit financial flows, and
related issues, visit http://www.africafocus.org/intro-iff.php
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Illicit Financial Flows: Why We Should Claim These Resources for Gender, Economic and
by Dr Attiya Waris
Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
July 28, 2017
http://www.awid.org Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/ych3zce3
Editor's note: The conceptual distinction between a narrow and wider definition of illicit financial
flows is often confusing. This paper begins with a very clear short explanation and
justification for using the wider definition. For an earlier slightly longer
discussion, prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin in November 2015, see "Defining Illicit
Financial Flows" http://tinyurl.com/yamhlajc
Concept and Scale of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs)
The concept of illicit financial flows (IFFs) is characterised by a lack of a unique
consensual definition. Cobham, for example, explains the difference between a narrow
and wider definition as follows:
"There are two main definitions of illicit financial flows (IFF). One equates
'illicit' with 'illegal', so that IFFs are movements of money or capital from one
country to another that are illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized. This
would include individual and corporate tax evasion but not avoidance (which is
legal), and other criminal activity like bribery or the trafficking of drugs or
The other relies on the dictionary definition of 'illicit' as 'forbidden by law,
rules or custom' encompassing the illegal but also including the socially
unpalatable, such as the multinational corporate tax avoidance".
This Venn diagram shows the overlap between illegal and illegimate
financial flows. Almost all illegal flows are also illegitimate, with exceptions
such as family remittances which may bypass legal foreign currency laws.
For the purpose of this brief, we will use the broader definition that encompasses
tax evasion, particularly by multinational corporations (MNCs). This is because the
strong corporate lobby has largely shaped the very design of tax laws around the
world. Exercising their economic and political influence on countries, they can
define what type of tax avoidance is considered legal or illegal in different
countries according to their profit interests.
Illicit financial flows can be broken down into three main types:
- Proceeds from corrupt dealings: For example, bribes by corporations to secure
public contracts/permits or false declaration of corporate profits in order to evade
tax payment, especially by extractive industries such as mining and oil exploration.
- Proceeds from criminal activities: A system of bank secrecy is necessary to
conceal the origins of illegally obtained money (e.g. from human trafficking or sale
of illegal arms), typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or
legitimate businesses a process known as "money laundering".
- Proceeds from commercial tax abuse: tax abuse includes both tax evasion and tax
avoidance by corporations and wealthy elites by using, for example, anonymous shell
companies in secrecy jurisdictions 4 that hide who the beneficial owners really are
and/or obscure information from tax authorities. Another form of commercial tax abuse
by MNC's is to over quote imports or under quote exports, to hide the real value of
products, and therefore profits a process known as "trade mispricing".
The exact amount of money being transferred through these systems is hard to
calculate, because IFFs can only be traced through the international banking system.
This does not account for money that simply moves from one place to another, within
or across to states, without the aid of the banking system, for example, cash in
exchange for political favors or ivory in exchange for small arms. While estimating
just how much money is lost through IFFs can be a difficult task due to the inherent
secrecy involved in their movement, there is consensus that they represent a
The Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) released an infographic (http://tinyurl.com/yde4gqsa)
summarizing the different existing estimates. For
example, using data of trade misinvoicing, the Global Financial Integrity estimates,
that as much as 7.8 trillion was lost by developing and emerging countries to IFFs
from 2004 to 2013, and that this loss is getting bigger.
The landmark report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa
(also known as the Mbeki report) estimates Africa to be losing more than $50 billion
annually in IFFs. This reality is having severe consequences to the development of
the continent. "Their economies do not benefit from the multiplier effects of the
domestic use of such resources, whether for consumption or investment. Such lost
opportunities impact negatively on growth and ultimately on job creation in Africa",
6 states the report.
To illustrate the effects on development, the same report cites a study (O'Hare and
others 2013) on the potential impact of IFFs on under- five child and infant
mortality in the region. "Without IFFs, the Central African Republic would have been
able to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 on child mortality in 45 years
compared with the 218 years at current rates of progress. Other striking examples are
Mauritania, 19 years rather than 198 years; Swaziland, 27 years rather than 155
years; and the Republic of Congo, 10 years rather than 120 years. Perhaps most
striking is the finding that if IFFs had been arrested by the turn of the century,
Africa would reach MDG 4 by 2016" . The sheer amount shows that these lost'
resources could have assisted states nationally and regionally to achieve the unmet
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Moving forward, this could play a crucial role
in financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and mobilizing the maximum
available resources to ensure the realization of human rights and social justice.
Efforts to quantify the gendered impact and implications of IFFs across the African
continent are needed more than ever. The African Women's Development and
Communication Network (FEMNET) in partnership with Trust Africa, set out an important
path in 2016 to strategically discuss with other organizations, how to effectively
address this problem and propose political solutions supported by global processes to
The Disproportionate Impact of IFFs on Gender Justice
Gender impacts of IFFs tend to be understood and studied at the national and even
local level, with scarce literature that focuses on the global impact of IFFs as an
obstacle to the realization of women's rights and gender justice.
We take a look at some specific impacts here:
Impact on delivery of social services
An inadequate tax collection system has a direct impact on a country's budget
deficit. The result has commonly been a reduction in key areas such as education,
health care, cares facilities, which has a direct impact on women and women-headed
households that are more vulnerable to national budget constraints.
Despite external constraints, decisions on budget spending at the national level are
highly political and gendered. The decision to choose between privileging certain
areas like militarization and propaganda over social spending on people's needs in
the areas mentioned above, is part of maintaining the status quo of power by local
and global elites. The lower the investment in education, the easier to control a
population kept on survival mode.
The feminisation of poverty is a persistent phenomenon in which women are
overrepresented amongst the most poor, with low-paid and poor-quality jobs. Because
of unequal gendered power relations and entrenched cultural stereotypes that define
women and girls identities and social roles, they predominantly do unpaid care work
across the world. This situation has an impact on the advancement of women and girls'
human rights It perpetuates their impoverishment, acting as an obstacle to women and
girls participation in the paid economy, political life and bodily and sexual
autonomy. For these reasons, women tend to be more dependent on public social
services, which have the capacity to shift the unpaid care burden that falls
disproportionately on their shoulders. Failure to mobilize public resources therefore
robs women and children of the much-needed public services, which reflects a lack of
recognition of the role of the care economy in subsidizing the entire economy.
Unemployment and under investment in the economy
When monies are illicitly transferred out of developing countries, the loss of public
resources impacts negatively the economic development of a country and ultimately job
creation. Similarly, when profits are illicitly transferred out of developing
countries, reinvestment and the concomitant economic expansion to create local jobs
are not taking place in these countries.
Lack of public investment has consequently led to lack of employment creation and
greater unemployment, hitting women particularly hard. According to 2016 ILO figures,
in many regions in the world, in comparison to men, women are more likely to become
and remain unemployed. They have fewer chances to participate in the labour force and
when they do often have to accept lower quality jobs. Women are typically the
first to lose their jobs and/or accept shorter hours and bad working conditions to
Regressive fiscal policies
IFFs often trigger regressive tax policies countries facing budget deficit tend to
cover that through increased consumption taxes rather than taxing the wealthy.
Neoliberal assumptions that taxing the wealthy would result in the withdrawal of
private investment in a given economy have permeated so deeply in economic policy
decision-making, that putting profit over people has become an unquestionable reality
worldwide, even as it remains fundamentally a political decision. Increasing
consumption taxes is in many cases the less costly of options for governments (both
economically and politically). After all, media corporations will not attack them as
they would if they tax the wealthy and also because, unfortunately, in most cases
there is not enough of a 'counter-power' / people power to stop them.
A great way to get middle and even working class people to support governments that
will not invest in social welfare, is the argument that the impoverished don't pay
taxes and live off benefits that formalized workers sustain with their contributions.
The invisibility of consumer taxes, and of who pays them the most in proportion to
their income, is an effective tool for preserving the status quo. Countries that
refuse to put into place mechanisms to efficiently tax those with greater wealth and
income (both individuals and corporations) typically resort to indirect tax
mechanisms such as high rates of value added tax (VAT) that collect taxes from
consumer goods or services rather than from individuals or companies. These have a
particularly negative effect on informal workers and people living in poverty the
majority of whom are women as they spend a large part of their income on taxes for
the essential goods and services they consume to sustain livelihoods, perpetuating
the cycle of poverty and aid dependence.
Marta Luttgrodt, 48, sells SABMiller beer from her stall
in the shadow of the
company's Accra Brewery, Ghana. Photograph: Jane Hahn/Jane Hahn/ActionAid
A poignant example is the SAB Miller Case in Ghana where Marta, who sells beer at her
small stall in Accra, Ghana outside the SAB Miller factory, was paying more tax than
the factory right next to her informal stand. This situation does little to encourage
informal workers to register as formal workers, as this would further increase their
tax burden. As a result, this perpetuates a situation in which informal workers are
ineligible to receive social services like health and pension benefits; yet
corporations and large businesses with huge profits are not pushed to contribute to
building and sustaining the infrastructure for these same basic services.
Principles of Equality and non-discrimination
Tax policies can play a crucial role in reducing inequality and redistributing
resources in order to level the playing field as much as possible.
The failure to prevent corruption and the fact that tax amnesties continue to be
granted to large corporations, fuel the desire among common taxpayers to be part of
those that outwit the state and its tax administration.
Equitable and progressive tax policies, based on human rights, have the potential to
reduce inequalities and redistribute resources to achieve development goals and end
impoverishment. Yet the wealthy few access legal and financial advice and services to
better exploit tax loopholes, or open undeclared foreign bank accounts in low-tax
Reliance on debt and development cooperation
Hidden wealth also increases inequality between developed and developing countries.
For instance the African Tax Administration Forum estimates that up to one-third of
Africa's wealth is being held abroad. This wealth and its associated income are
beyond the reach of African tax authorities. It deprives countries of resources that
could be used to mitigate inequality, and further enrich donor countries, where it is
stored. This income could address the over-dependence on overseas development
assistance (ODA), and shift the balance of power between donor and recipient
countries; and enable self-determined development priorities and outcomes, rather
than those imposed by ODA conditionality, including trade conditions.
Threat to Women's Peace and security
Lost resources through IFFs often cannot be used legitimately and end up fuelling
criminal activity, including illegal arms trade, human trafficking of which 49% of
victims are women and 21% are girls 24 and other activities undermining peace and
The data is patchy given the illegal nature of IFFs, but evidence gathered by many
including Cobham, the Tax Justice Network and the report of the High Level Panel on
Illicit Financial Flows out of Africa, noted that "IFF thrive on conflict and
insecurity and also exacerbate both, undermining the financial and political
prospects for effective states to deliver and support development progress."
Considering the well-documented impact that war and conflict has on women and girls,
the issue of IFFs is of outmost importance to tackle the financial enablers behind
conflict and militarization.
Resourcing for women's rights and gender justice
One of the biggest challenges facing the implementation of long agreed commitments on
human rights, women's rights and gender equality and related goals, like those
contained in Agenda 2030, is ensuring that resources are sufficiently allocated.
States have an obligation to mobilize the maximum available resources for the
realization of human rights. Progressive taxation plays a key role in mobilizing
public resources and is a key tool for addressing economic inequality, including
gender inequality. The hidden resources of illicit financial flows must be unlocked
and returned to bolster domestic resourcing of development goals and gender equality.
Editor's note: The following notes were prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin as background for the visit
of a delegation to the United States by representatives of African trade unions &
civil society organizations, organized by the Solidarity Center and ITUC-Africa on September 20-30, 2017. The delegation,
which is visiting Washington, DC and the San Francisco Bay Area, is meeting with
activists and policymakers to exchange views on strategies to combat inequality, tax
injustice, and illicit financial flows. The delegation includes Joel Odigie,
Coordinator Human and Trade Union Rights, African Organisation of the International
Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa); Caroline Mugalla, Executive Secretary, East African Trade
Union Confederation; Luckystar Miyandazi, Policy Officer African Institutions
Program, European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and former Africa
Coordinator for Africa for ActionAid's tax justice program; and Gyekye Tanoh, head of
the Political Economy Unit at Third World Network Africa.
The United States and the International Debate on Illicit Financial Flows
In Africa, the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows
(https://www.uneca.org/iff) and the Stop the Bleeding Campaign to End Illicit
Financial Flows from Africa (http://stopthebleedingafrica.org/) have put this term
and this issue on the agenda for African governments and civil society organizations
around the continent.
In contrast, the term is not very familiar even among policy analysts in the United
States, but the issues of tax justice, tax evasion, and tax avoidance are central to
debate in both political circles and among social justice organizations. The focus is
primarily on the domestic issue of how the rich do not pay their fair share. There is
also an understanding that this has an international dimension, but there is little
awareness of how the United States itself contributes to illicit financial flows.
The challenge is to make these connections. This background note provides several
resources useful for doing so.
The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the
scale of their offshore financial activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a
tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions,
and illicit financial flows or capital flight.
An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or
lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Secrecy jurisdictions - a
term we often use as an alternative to the more widely used term tax havens - use
secrecy to attract illicit and illegitimate or abusive financial flows. Illicit
cross-border financial flows have been estimated at $1-1.6 trillion per year:
dwarfing the US$135 billion or so in global foreign aid. Since the 1970s African
countries alone have lost over $1 trillion in capital flight, while combined external
debts are less than $200 billion. So Africa is a major net creditor to the world -
but its assets are in the hands of a wealthy élite, protected by offshore secrecy;
while the debts are shouldered by broad African populations.
Top 15 countries: 1. Switzerland, 2. Hong Kong, 3. USA, 4. Singapore, 5. Cayman
Islands, 6. Luxembourg, 7. Lebanon, 8. Germany, 9. Bahrain, 10. United Arab Emirates
(Dubai), 11. Macao, 12. Japan, 13. Panama, 14. Marshall Islands,
15. United Kingdom
"Many U.S. corporations use offshore tax havens and other accounting gimmicks to
avoid paying as much as $90 billion a year in federal income taxes. A large loophole
at the heart of U.S. tax law enables corporations to avoid paying taxes on foreign
profits until they are brought home. Known as "deferral," it provides a huge
incentive to keep profits offshore as long as possible.
Deferral gives corporations enormous incentives to use accounting tricks to make it
appear that profits earned here were generated in a tax haven. Profits are funneled
through subsidiaries, often shell companies with few employees and little real
business activity. Effectively, firms launder U.S. profits to avoid paying U.S.
Background notes on tax justice and illicit financial flows in U.S. political context
Prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin for
Solidarity Center Mini-Symposium, September 28, 2017
Africa & the U.S.: Illicit Financial Flows, Tax Justice, and Economic Inequality
The "tax reform" debate
"The big battle throughout the fall will be taxes. The Republicans are trying to
decide whether to go for massive tax cuts--particularly for corporations, which are
awash in cash, and the rich--or massive tax cuts plus an overhaul of the tax system
that will permanently favor the wealthy and the corporations (and probably hurt the
middle class)." - Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin, Facebook post,
September 2, 2017 https://www.facebook.com/corey.robin1/posts/1488929127839470
"It's a Myth That Corporate Tax Cuts Mean More Jobs," by Sarah Anderson
The New York Times, August 30, 2017
"The arithmetic for us is simple," AT&T's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, said
on CNBC in May. If Congress were to cut the 35 percent tax on corporate profits to 20
percent, he declared, "I know exactly what AT&T would do -- we'd invest more" in the
United States. Every $1 billion in tax savings would create 7,000 well-paying jobs, Mr. Stephenson
went on to say. The correlation between lower corporate taxes and more jobs, he
assured viewers, runs "very, very tight."
As Congress prepares to take up tax legislation this fall, including an effort to
reduce the corporate tax rate, this bold jobs claim merits examination. Notably, it
comes from the chief executive of a company that's already paying comparatively
little in federal taxes.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, AT&T enjoyed an effective
tax rate of just 8 percent between 2008 and 2015, despite recording a profit in the
United States each year, by exploiting tax breaks and loopholes. (The company argues
that it pays significant taxes, at a rate close to 34 percent in recent years, but
that includes deferred taxes and state and local levies.) Despite the enormous
savings AT&T has realized, the company has been downsizing. Although it hires
thousands of people a year, the company, by our analysis at the Institute for Policy
Studies, reduced its total work force by nearly 80,000 jobs between 2008 and 2016,
accounting for acquisitions and spinoffs each involving more than 2,000 workers.
Institute for Policy Studies report: "Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs"
http://www.ips-dc.org - Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/y7fdkovy
3-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIdOkaeqe2E
House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing to cut the statutory federal corporate tax rate
from 35 to 20 percent. President Trump wants to slash the rate even further, to just
15 percent. Their core argument? Lowering the tax burden will lead to more and better
To investigate this claim, this report is the first to analyze the job creation
records of the 92 publicly held U.S. corporations that reported a U.S. profit every
year from 2008 through 2015 and paid less than 20 percent of these earnings in
federal income tax. Did these reduced tax rates actually lead to greater employment
within the 92 firms? The data we have compiled give a definitive -- and sobering --
The money-laundering debate and the Trump investigation
Dan Froomkin, "Trump's World of Luxury Real Estate is Fueled by Money-Laundering"
American Constitution Society Blog, August 31, 2017
Brief excerpt. Full article at: http://tinyurl.com/y93w93f8
The ultra-high-end real estate business, where Donald Trump made a lot of his money,
is the easiest place for oligarchs and others to launder large amounts of illicit
cash. And because several of the lawyers on special counsel Robert Mueller's team
investigating Russian connections with the Trump presidential campaign are
specialists in money-laundering and other financial crimes, some observers are
speculating that he may be looking into Trump's past business dealings to see if any
of those connections are relevant to the matter at hand.
The fact that money-launderers flock to luxury real estate is nothing new, and isn't
much of a mystery either. It's the direct result of a major loophole in U.S.
government rules that require banks to report cash deposits over $10,000 -- but allow
property owners to accept $10 million in cash for a condo without divulging who gave
it to them.
For fraudsters, drug cartels, oligarchs and corrupt foreign government officials
looking for a way to launder huge sums of illicit cash -- and park it somewhere safe
-- high-end real estate is the investment of choice. "You can put a lot of money in
one place at one time, without raising any eyebrows," says Heather Lowe, legal
counsel for the dirty-money watchdog group Global Financial Integrity. The Treasury
Department explains it this way: "The real estate market can be an attractive vehicle
for laundering illicit gains because of the manner in which it appreciates in value,
'cleans' large sums of money in a single transaction, and shields ill-gotten gains
from market instability and exchange-rate fluctuations."
A New York Times series in 2015 found that more than half of the $8 billion spent
each year on New York residences that cost more than $5 million comes from shell
corporations that mask the real owners' identities, one possible sign of moneylaundering.
Global Witness, "Undercover in New York," January 2016
"We went undercover and approached 13 New York law firms. We deliberately posed as
someone designed to raise red flags for money laundering. We said we were advising an
African minister who had accumulated millions of dollars, and we wanted to buy a
Gulfstream Jet, a brownstone and a yacht. We said we needed to get the money into the
U.S. without detection.
To be clear, the meetings with the lawyers were all preliminary. None of the law
firms took our investigator on as a client, and no money was moved. Nonetheless, the
results were shocking; all but one of the the lawyers had suggestions on how to move
the funds. To see what some of them said, watch [this 3-minute video]:
Current Congressional Legislation related to Illicit Financial Flows and Tax Justice
Corporate Transparency Act of 2017
A bill to amend title 31, United States Code, to ensure that persons who form
corporations or limited liability companies in the United States disclose the
beneficial owners of those corporations or limited liability companies, in order to
prevent wrongdoers from exploiting United States corporations and limited liability
companies for criminal gain, to assist law enforcement in detecting, preventing, and
punishing terrorism, money laundering, and other misconduct involving United States
corporations and limited liability companies, and for other purposes.
S. 1717: Sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), 1 cosponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
H.R. 3089: Sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), 10 cosponsors (5R, 5D)
Related background on beneficial ownership
Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act
A bill to end offshore corporate tax avoidance, and for other purposes.
Summary: This bill authorizes the Department of the Treasury to impose restrictions
on foreign jurisdictions or financial institutions to counter money laundering and
efforts to significantly impede U.S. tax enforcement. It amends the Internal Revenue
Code to expand reporting requirements for certain foreign investments and accounts
held by U.S. persons, and amends the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to: (1) require
corporations to disclose certain financial information on a country-by-country basis,
and (2) impose penalties for failing to disclose offshore holdings.
S. 841: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), no cosponsors
H.R. 1932: Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), 59 cosponsors, all Democrats
Related background on country-by-country reporting
Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2017
A bill to impose a tax on certain trading transactions to invest in our families and
communities, improve our infrastructure and our environment, strengthen our financial
security, expand opportunity and reduce market volatility.
S. 805: Sen. Bernard Sanders (D-VT), no cosponsors
H.R. 144: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), 23 cosponsors, all Democrats
Related background on financial transaction ("Robin Hood") taxes
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted
commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and
international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at email@example.com. Please write to this
address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted
material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive
and other resources, see http://www.africafocus.org