51 of the 68 companies that were lent money by the World Bank’s private lending arm in 2015 to finance investments in sub-Saharan Africa use tax havens, Oxfam revealed today.
Oxfam’s analysis focused on International Finance Corporations (IFC) investments in Sub-Saharan Africa. It shows that together these 51 companies, whose use of tax havens has no apparent link with their core business, received 84 percent of IFC investments in that region in 2015. It also reveals that the IFC has more than doubled its investments in companies that use tax havens in just 5 years - from $1.20 billion in 2010 to $ 2.87 billion in 2015.
The findings come ahead of the IMF-World Bank Spring meetings in Washington DC on April 13-15 and in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal which revealed how powerful individuals and companies are using tax havens to hide wealth and dodge taxes.
In Oxfam’s study, the most popular haven for IFC’s corporate clients was Mauritius; 40% of IFC’s clients investing in Sub-Saharan Africa have links there. Mauritius is known to facilitate “round-tripping.” This 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. It desperately needs corporate tax revenues to invest in public services and infrastructure. The region lacks money to provide enough skilled birth attendants, clean water or mosquito nets, for example, resulting in high rates of child mortality; one child in 12 dies 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’s 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% of it spent in Sub-Saharan Africa. The IFC has a significant focus on financial markets, infrastructure, agribusiness and forestry, among other sectors.
While the IFC arguably leads the private sector with its 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. 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 tax payers, too.
Oxfam is calling for 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.