Opinion: World Bank Should Stop Lending Money To Companies That Use Tax Havens, Do Business In Sub-Sahara

Written by Dana Sanchez

Of the 68 companies that borrowed money from World Bank’s private lending arm in 2015 to finance investments in sub-Saharan Africa, 51 use tax havens, Oxfam said today in a press release.

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and what it considers injustice around the world.

Oxfam’s analysis focused on International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) investments in sub-Saharan Africa. IFC is a member of the World Bank Group — both based in Washington, D.C. IFC is the largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector in developing countries.

Research shows these 51 companies’ use of tax havens has no apparent link with their core business, Oxfam reported. The 51 companies received 84 percent of IFC investments in the sub-Sahara region in 2015. Research also shows that IFC more than doubled its investments in companies that use tax havens from $1.20 billion in 2010 to $2.87 billion in 2015.

The findings come in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal which revealed how powerful individuals and companies use tax havens to hide wealth and dodge taxes, Oxfam reported. The IMF-World Bank spring meetings are scheduled for April 13-15 in Washington, D.C.

The report does not name any specific companies that have invested in the region using IFC cash. Nor does it provide details about tax haven-use. The IFC said the Oxfam report is flawed, IrishTimes reported.

In another recent study, Oxfam found that 90 percent of 200-plus multinational companies, including the 100 largest in the world, had at least one tax haven, USAToday reported.

Mauritius was the most popular haven for IFC’s corporate clients was with 40 percent of IFC clients investing in Sub-Saharan Africa having links to the island nation, known to facilitate “round-tripping,” according to Oxfam. Round tripping is where a company shifts money offshore before returning it disguised as foreign direct investment, which attracts tax breaks and other financial incentives.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the world and desperately needs corporate tax revenues to invest in public services and infrastructure, according to Oxfam. For example, the region lacks money to provide enough clean water, mosquito nets, or skilled birth attendants, resulting in high child mortality – one in 12 children die before their fifth birthday.

“It doesn’t make sense for the World Bank Group to spend money encouraging companies to invest in ‘development’ while turning a blind eye to the fact that these companies could be cheating poor countries out of tax revenues that are needed to fight poverty and inequality,” said Oxfam tax policy advisor Susana Ruiz.

“The World Bank Group should not risk funding companies that are dodging taxes in Sub-Saharan Africa and across the globe. It must put safeguards in place to ensure that its clients can prove they are paying their fair share of tax.”

The IFC invested more than $86 billion of public money in developing countries between 2010 and 2015; 18.6 percent of it as spent in sub-Saharan Africa. The IFC has a significant focus on financial markets, infrastructure, agribusiness and forestry, among other sectors.

Since non-international companies cannot use such practices, the tax havens provide an unfair advantage to international companies, and contribute to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, Oxfam said in the report.

“The richest 1 percent in the world now has more wealth than the rest of the world combined,” Oxfam said. “Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest.”

While the IFC arguably leads the private sector for disclosure, environmental and social standards, the public still has no access to information about where over half of the institution’s financing ends up, because it is done through opaque financial intermediaries, Oxfam said. It also continues to face major challenges in measuring its overall development impact, and ensuring that the projects it funds do not harm local communities. This latest Oxfam research shows that the organization has a long way to go in ensuring that its clients are responsible taxpayers.

Oxfam wants the IFC to develop new standards to ensure it only invests in companies that have responsible corporate tax practices. For example companies should be transparent about their economic activities so it’s clear if they are paying their fair share of tax where they do business.

The World Bank and IMF must work with all governments to further reform the international tax system and help to stop tax dodging by wealthy individuals and corporations. This should include action to end the era of tax havens.