Tax evasion by elites and major corporations, as well the fight against Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) by those same corporations, has been slammed by ISWA President David Newman in a high level address to the Second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Following the launch of the Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO) at the ISWA World Congress in Antwerp last September, ISWA was invited by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to present the report’s key messages in Nairobi.
The assembly comes together to focus on the environmental aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It represents the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.
As part of ISWA’s involvement David Newman took part in a high-level panel discussion. The side-event, with the theme Less Waste, Better Environment, Healthy People discussed the GWMO and highlighted waste-environment-health interlinkages.
With speakers including UNEA President, Oyun Sanjaasuren and other senior environment ministers and figures, the discussion was a huge success and raised some important issues on behalf of the waste industry.
Newman explained that waste management is an essential public service of the highest priority, contributing towards public health, lowering emissions of black soot, dioxins and greenhouse gasses, saving and recycling resources, whilst creating millions of jobs throughout the value chain.
“Poor waste management affects above all the poorest of our societies and leads to ill health and the premature deaths of millions of our fellow citizens every year,” he said. “Thirty percent of the world’s population in fact have no access to waste collection services, whilst 40% of all waste is dumped in an uncontrolled manner into open dumps, polluting our rivers, lakes, fields, canals, and seas; or burnt in the open air.”
“The GWMO shows that there are no technological barriers to ensuring good waste management,” he continued. “The systems implemented over the last 40 years in developed countries demonstrate that landfills can be eradicated and over 60 of all waste can be recycled.”
The ISWA President went on to explain that finance is desperately needed to bring public services to the 30% of the world’s population which currently has no collection systems.
“Wherever I travel in developing countries the mantra is identical - ‘we don’t have the money to do this’, or ‘we cannot afford it’,” he said. “According to the World Bank in 2012 we needed then around $30 billion a year to ensure waste is managed in developing countries, at least collected and landfilled rather than dumped. I estimate today the figure to be nearer $60 billion a year. An enormous amount, it would seem.”
Transparency, Corruption and Tax Evasion
Quoting Scott Fulton, President of the Environmental Law Institute, Newman explained that transparency, accountability, and equity in the governance of natural resources strengthen the rule of the law, empower marginalised communities and rebuild social ties.
“Yet, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where such transparency is shockingly absent,” he argued. “Corruption among government officials is rife. More than $12 trillion is held today in offshore accounts, some of it legally, a lot of it not.”
Major tax evasion is taking place in a great majority of nations, where a fraction of the taxes evaded would solve the waste infrastructure gap overnight,” the ISWA President continued.
He went on to note an Overseas Development Institute figure which claimed that failures in governance and tax evasion cost Africa alone $82 billion per year - enough to finance excellent public services throughout the continent.
“Major corporations, and the US is sadly a leader in this, avoid paying taxes in most domains using offshore accounting,” said Newman. “The 50 largest US corporations hold $1.38 trillion in offshore accounts to avoid paying US and other taxes, an amount equal to the economy of Spain. Apple alone has $181 billion in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes and was able to avoid paying a penny of taxes worldwide on $74 billion profits over a period 2008-2012, including developing countries desperately in need of tax incomes to finance services and save peoples’ lives.”
“These same corporations fight against Extended Producer Responsibility to ensure correct recovery of the products they put into the marketplace, in many jurisdictions globally, including the USA,” he continued. “So not only do they put consumer products into markets where they then pay no taxes, they also ensure they pay nothing to recover or recycling those goods once they become waste.”
One More Thing…
Newman went on to chastise the hypocrisy of many major corporations, citing phrases such as ‘our planet deserves our best thinking’ or ‘pioneering Sustainable Solutions’ or ‘we have been carbon neutral since 2012 and are committed to lean, green, accountable business practices’ appearing on their websites.
“Microsoft holds $108 billion in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. Starbucks paid no taxes nor showed any profits on UK sales of £1.2 billion. That was just one country,” he noted.
Warming to his theme Newman added: “I am outraged. Beyond this, I am furious, angry and disgusted. Whilst we are fighting for every penny to ensure waste management services are brought to poorer countries, these same companies are fighting to ensure they don’t contribute a penny of their profits to any services in these countries.”
“If these very same companies want to do something for the planet, be lean and green, sustainable and accountable, then they should pay their taxes like we all do,” he continued. “Tax evasion is the equivalent of massive theft of financial resources needed to develop public health infrastructure, including for waste, for 40 percent of the world’s population. Withholding these funds is causing the deaths of millions of our poorest people every year.”
The ISWA President urged those present to campaign vigorously in their own jurisdictions for greater probity in the enforcement of the law, to create a society where corruption does not deprive the State of resources needed to finance essential infrastructure.
He also appealed for delegates to work on closing the tax loopholes and low tax or tax free jurisdictions like the British Virgin Isles, Panama and others, which allow massive tax evasion by major corporations and individuals.
“The US$60 bn a year we need for waste infrastructure globally is sitting in these accounts, it is one half percent of the $12 trillion hidden there; we should be working together to get this money and put it to work where it is most needed, now. The Planet cannot wait,” concluded Newman.
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