TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, September 23, 2016

NYU Symposium:  Human Rights And Tax In An Unequal World

HRThe two-day symposium on Human Rights and Tax in an Unequal World concludes today at NYU:

Session #3:   Beyond “Spillover”: North-South Dimensions of Tax and Tax Abuse

This panel will situate the discussion of tax abuse and human rights in its geopolitical context, addressing the differentiated responsibilities of the Global North and South for the causes and consequences of tax abuse, and the relationship between cross-border tax abuse and inter-State inequalities. Experts from the fields of tax and human rights will discuss the methodological challenges of assessing the extraterritorial impacts of tax policies and secrecy regimes, some of which were laid bare in recent attempts to conduct “spillover analyses” of laws and regulations in the Global North. How can studies capture the human rights consequences of the policies that enable cross-border tax abuse, including the gendered impacts? Panelists will explore options for enforcing global tax rules and holding actors accountable for tax abuses that affect human rights, including the potential role for domestic courts, as well as regional and international human rights bodies.

Session #4:  Private Actors and the Public Purse: The Roles of Corporations, Lawyers, and Accountants in Tax Abuse

Consumers and regulators are increasingly scrutinizing the practices of corporations that hide assets to avoid or minimize taxes paid on the benefits they reap from operating in various jurisdictions, and the responsibilities of the law firms (like Mossack Fonseca of Panama Papers fame) and accountants that facilitate such practices. Recent high-profile tax scandals have underscored the reputational risks of tax abuses and have made tax planning an issue of corporate social responsibility and business ethics. Some of the questions panelists will explore include: How realistic is it to expect serious reform of tax practices to come from private actors? Are efforts to encourage ‘good corporate tax behavior’ delaying compulsory measures by suggesting there is voluntary progress? How do human rights principles and policies bear on the ethical obligations of accountants and lawyers who work in the area of taxation? In what ways, if any, should considerations of human rights law affect the ethics of accountants and lawyers in this field?

Session #5:  The Responsibilities of Governments: The Case of Transparency

This panel will focus on the unique role of the State with regard to the regulation of tax transparency, in view of State duties to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Panelists will reflect on how governments are or should be legislating and enforcing transparency obligations, and the potential unintended consequences of doing so. The principles of transparency and accountability, firmly grounded in international human rights law, underlie demands for greater disclosure of information on tax payments and corporate ownership, within and between countries. Many States have agreed to begin automatic exchange of taxpayer information in 2017–2018 and some have adopted new provisions requiring country-by-country reporting of corporate profits, tax payments, and beneficial ownership. At the same time, privacy concerns regarding the use and abuse of taxpayer data loom large. Corporate actors are increasingly using human rights principles and institutions to vindicate their privacy and property rights against the State’s powers to tax and to demand information regarding taxpayer practices. This session will examine in what ways the perspectives of tax and human rights experts coalesce or collide on issues of transparency and privacy in the realm of taxation, and address the proper role for States in regulating tax practices.

Session #6:   The Role of International Organizations: The Architecture of International Tax Reform:

Inter-governmental organizations, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have long been involved in shaping State tax regimes. Recently, political and economic bodies, like the G20, the European Commission and the OECD, have taken center stage as key actors in the global debate about cross-border tax abuse and reform. The OECD base erosion and profit-shifting (BEPS) initiative responded to widespread concerns about revenue losses due to corporate tax avoidance and regulatory gaps regarding tax information-sharing, cooperation, and accounting.

Session #7:  Tackling Inequality: Synergies between Tax and Human Rights Agendas:

This panel will explore potential areas of convergence between the fields of tax and human rights around the issue of economic inequality. The human rights consequences of growing economic inequality within and between countries are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. And tax dodging by corporations and wealthy individuals entrenches inequalities between taxpayers in a given State and across the global North-South divide. Rectifying the unequal distribution of income and wealth is framed both as a tax problem and a human rights imperative. Studies have shown that taxation can be an important tool for redressing inequality and reducing poverty. But if poorly designed or implemented, tax laws can entrench disparity and exacerbate discrimination. Panelists will examine the ways in which tax contributes to inequalities of different types and the prospects of leveraging taxation as a tool of global justice. They will explore the complex relationships between inequality, taxation and human rights, and address such questions as: What role can tax policies play in redressing the global divide between the haves and the have nots? What can the human rights framework reveal about the distributive effects and implications of tax laws within and between countries?

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