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World's first 'fair tax' kite mark launches


The campaign for a more responsible approach to tax by business took a decisive step recently with three companies – Midcounties Co-operative, Unity Trust Bank and The Phone Co-op – becoming the first businesses to be accredited by the new Fair Tax Mark, the world's first independent accreditation scheme to address the issue of responsible tax.

The Mark has been developed by a team of tax justice campaigners and tax experts and is managed in by Ethical Consumer Research Association from its Manchester offices.

The purpose of the Fair Tax Mark is to show that a company is making a genuine effort to be open and transparent about its tax affairs and pays the right amount of corporation tax at the right time and in the right place.

At the launch, Margaret Hodge MP, and Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said: “I think this is a fantastic idea. The reaction to the revelations about the tax practices of big names like Starbucks, Amazon and Google shows that this is an issue the public really cares about. Given the choice, many people would prefer to give their custom to a responsible business that does the right thing and pays its fair share of tax.”

"Seeing customers vote with their feet is perhaps the most effective deterrent there is to companies engaging in tax avoidance or other irresponsible practices."

“The Fair Tax Mark helps give them the power to make that choice, and seeing customers vote with their feet is perhaps the most effective deterrent there is to companies engaging in tax avoidance or other irresponsible practices."

The Mark launched with a roundtable discussion hosted by the Guardian and attended by professionals from across the tax, accounting and social enterprise sector.  The general consensus was that the Fair Tax Mark is a positive addition to the debate on tax avoidance.  The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has also welcomed the Mark, describing it as “an initiative we are right behind.”

The debate about fair tax has also been ongoing at Westminster, led by Caroline Lucas MP.  Her EDM calling on the government to welcome the Fair Tax Mark has now been signed by 46 MPs and Ms Lucas also led a debate in the Commons on the Fair Tax Mark, during which Treasuring Minister David Gauke welcomed the Fair Tax Mark as a valuable contribution to the debate on tax avoidance.

The accreditation of the Fair Tax Mark pioneer companies comes at a time when recent polling from the Institute for Business Ethics has found that corporate tax avoidance is now the number one concern of the public when it comes to business conduct.

Ben Reid, Chief Executive of Midcounties Co-operative said: "Midcounties Co-operative is proud to be a pioneer of the Fair Tax Mark. Last year we contributed the equivalent of 15% of our profits to charitable causes and it makes no sense for us to undermine this by engaging in aggressive tax avoidance schemes even when to do so would be legal.”

Richard Wilcox, Managing Director of Unity Trust Bank said: "We are delighted to be the first bank in the UK to receive the Fair Tax Mark accreditation ... Established as a bank to promote the common good, we believe a fair tax system is vital for society to thrive. Businesses have a duty to pay a fair share and to invest in the UK economy and society as a whole."

Current estimates suggest that whilst the public sector budget is being slashed, corporate tax avoidance in the UK is currently running at £12 billion every year, a sum which would fund the training of almost half a million midwives and pay the salaries of half a million teachers for a year.

"Too many businesses in our industry use aggressive tax schemes to reduce the amount of tax pay."

Vivian Woodell, founder and CEO of The Phone Co-op, said: "Too many businesses in our industry use aggressive tax schemes to reduce the amount of tax pay.  As well as being unfair competition for businesses like The Phone Co-op which want to pay our fair share, this behaviour results in underfunded public services on which we all depend. The fact that The Phone Co-op is owned by its customers rather than by investors brings this issue into sharp focus and is a key reason why we are supporting the Fair Tax Mark.”

Richard Murphy, a tax justice campaigner and one of the founders of the Fair Tax Mark said: "Around the world and here in the UK people are now aware that many big businesses routinely fail to pay the taxes they really owe. What they now want to do is spend their money with those companies who are doing the right thing … The Fair Tax Mark is designed to allow consumers to identify those businesses who are paying their fair share of tax. This makes the Mark the next step in the campaign for tax justice."

The Fair Tax Mark is currently available to businesses based solely in the UK with more details on how to get accredited at the project website. The team are currently developing the next phase of the Fair Tax Mark: evaluation criteria for multinational corporations. 

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