Generally speaking, we conduct our speech and debate with a certain degree of political civility.
The “politics of politics” asks both sides to assume good faith in the other; no one is knowingly trying to cause harm to others through their policy proposals.
But Oxfam’s latest video, “The Heist No One is Talking About”, is a product of abandoned political civility, mixed with extreme fear-mongering.
In an attempt to portray the harm that “tax-dodging” multinationals cause to developing countries, the video features masked thieves racing through hospital corridors and looting resources, to the peril of vulnerable patients. The video escalates – to the point where we watch something that borders on attempted infanticide.
The takeaway is as blunt as it is crass: these companies are willing to trade the lives of children for a few extra pennies to line their pockets.
Trying to conflate multinationals with these soulless, masked men is as clever as it is sinister. But not everyone is buying the comparison.
Maya Forstater has brilliantly dismantled the video in a blog for the Center for Global Development. She argues that the policy change Oxfam is calling for – a mandatory, public breakdown of country-by-country taxes paid by UK firms – is not likely to solve the issues of exploitation that Oxfam seemingly wants to address.
Particularly damning, however, is Forstater’s assessment of the $100bn figure that Oxfam claims poor countries lose every year from tax-dodging multinationals.
Drawing parallels to the £350m figure floated by the Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the EU Referendum, Forstater highlights that such “numbers were put alongside each other just to catch our attention, not to be seen as a real statement of possibility”.
She notes that “playing games with maternal and infant mortality figures, to inflate the perceived potential of a favoured policy proposal” is not what she – or anyone – expects from Oxfam.
I’d be inclined to agree, if it weren’t for other examples in which Oxfam has prioritised politics over poverty relief. Their annual inequality campaign – which this year claimed that the eight richest people in the world have the same wealth as the bottom 50 per cent – is primarily focused on reducing wealth at the top, rather than improving conditions for those at the bottom.
This campaign is also propped up by questionable headline figures and flawed statistics. If their calculations are to be taken at face value, a Durham graduate with £50,000 of student debt is “poorer” than a Bangladeshi factory worker.
These kinds of marketing ploys tell us very little about the state of poverty worldwide, and offer no solutions about how to go about reducing it.
If the point of the Heist video is really (as the charity claims) to ensure that “fair taxes being paid in the countries where profits are made”, Oxfam’s first port of call should be to acknowledge that corporation tax is not fit to do this. It is an extremely inefficient levy, particularly when it comes to targeting profits that have been made globally.
Operating in the world of political civility as I do, I don’t think Oxfam is malicious in these call for increased regulations on UK companies.
Alas, I just don’t believe such policies will do anything to give the poor a step up.