WHEN a company or, more likely, a wealthy celebrity is revealed
to be pursuing dodgy tax practices, there is usually an immediate
insistence that the arrangements are within the law. That is
understandable: breaking the law can cost you money and your
Such a defence seldom, however, fully deflects the criticism.
There is a view that, although their tax arrangements are not
illegal, they are immoral.
Tax revenue is used by governments to pay for things that people
need: security services, education for children, medics,
firefighters, roads, and judicial systems. They are used to provide
for all citizens, helping to create justice and equality within
society. Hence tax has a moral dimension.
The idea of this moral dimension to tax is not new. People have
campaigned for tax justice for years. The campaign is now spreading
across the world, as citizens and governments wake up to the
detrimental effect that tax-dodging by some multinationals - some
of it legal - is having on their societies.
A NEW Christian Aid publication, Tax for the Common
Good, is the result of a consultation with theologians, tax
experts from the private sector, academics, and church leaders from
around the world. Its conclusions and recommendations are intended
to promote further discussions among politicians, the private
sector, and others with influence. The object is to change national
and global financial structures for the benefit of people living in
There are no simple "Christian" answers, no proof-texts that set
out what tax policy should look like. What is clear, however, is
what biblical texts have to say about the relationships between
people, and what they say about our relationship with God.
In Mark 12.17, Jesus responded to those seeking to test him by
saying: "Give to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that
which is God's." In other words, support those responsible for
organising society, and obey the moral and religious teachings of
The Bible requires us to treat every person as someone with
God-given dignity. Everyone is of equal value. In particular, there
are many scriptural passages in which the duty to protect and
provide for the poor is emphasised.
All of this implies that something has gone profoundly wrong
when, as around the world today, many people are living in terrible
want and squalor, while others, who have far more than they need,
feel no responsibility for them.
IN A world witnessing a growing gap between the wealthiest and
poorest, some wealth redistribution is needed. Taxation is one
means for that to occur.
In a world in which multinational companies can be wealthier
than some developing countries, effective taxation can provide
much-needed revenue for these countries.
Large multinational companies have been seen to use their
relative strength to obtain huge tax concessions. They also
manipulate their profits in order to avoid paying tax in the
countries where some of their wealth is created. This is
commonplace around the world, but, although it may be legal, from a
moral perspective it is an abuse of power and a failure to love
one's neighbour as oneself.
Professor Esther Reed, the Exeter theologian and one of the
authors of the Christian Aid report, argues that Jesus put respect
and care for people living in poverty above adherence to the law.
She writes: "Global corporations may properly be expected to exceed
minimal compliance standards on taxation, where failure to do so
undercuts the conditions required for the flourishing of all."
This follows Matthew 5.21 where Jesus says: "You have heard it
said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and
'Whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.' But I say to you
that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable
to judgement." In other words, we need to read the signs, and, if
necessary, go beyond the mere letter of the law.
This argument clearly raises uncomfortable questions for many
multinational companies. Some will no doubt retort that it is
entirely unrealistic. In response, we would point out that many
reforms seem like that until they are realised. As an agency of our
sponsoring churches, it is the duty of Christian Aid, with other
organisations, to speak out on the basis of what our Christian
values tell us about the world.
FORTUNATELY, perhaps, the common good need not depend on
companies' voluntarily paying more tax than the law requires of
them. Governments assume responsibility for the poor living in
their jurisdiction, and thus have both the power and the duty to
create and enforce adequate tax laws.
Tax revenues are essential if governments are to play their part
in building the common good: they support the creation of an equal,
flourishing, and cohesive society. If taxes are seen as a moral, as
well as a legal matter - by shareholders, customers, and the people
who can change corporate culture - they might turn out to be
something that companies are proud to pay, not something to wriggle
Canon Geoff Daintree is Senior Church Advocacy Adviser at